Paul Dickson (Bruce Guthrie Photo)

Authorisms with William Shakespeare, Mark Twain and Jane Austen on the cover.

The Omnibus Official Rules.


I am a freelance writer of more than 65 non-fiction books and numerous newspaper and magazine articles on a variety of subjects from ice cream to baseball to language, including slang, to jokes to Sputnik and the Bonus Army.

I hope you’ll explore my site to learn more about my work. I’ll update it as necessary, time permitting – which it hasn’t for quite awhile.

Here’s the news since my last update:

First, a little bragging -- I’m delighted to announce that I was awarded the Tony Salin Award from the Baseball Reliquary in 2011. It’s given to honor the recipient’s role in preserving baseball history.

I’m also thrilled to announce that my first biography, Bill Veeck--Baseball's Greatest Maverick, published in 2012, received three awards: the Jerome Holtzman Award from the Chicago Baseball Museum, the Reader’s Choice Award for the best baseball book of 2012 from the Special Libraries Association and the Casey Award from Spitball magazine, also for the best baseball book of 2012.

And for some icing on the cake, I am a 2012 recipient of the Henry Chadwick Award which was established in November 2009 by the Society of American Baseball Researchers (SABR) to honor baseball's the chosen researchers “for their invaluable contributions to making baseball the game that links America’s present with its past.”

Baseball has certainly been very, very good to me.

Next, late in 2013 Dover Publications published The Official Rules: 5,427 Laws, Principles, and Axioms to Help You Cope with Crises, Deadlines, Bad Luck, Rude Behavior, Red Tape, and Attacks by Inanimate Objects which not only assembles the best rules from my previous nine Official Rules titles but adds more than a thousand new ones. For those of you not familiar with the series these laws were collected by myself and the esteemed Fellows of the Murphy Center for the Codification of Human and Organizational Law. They were gathered one rule at a time over more than forty years from pundits, prophets, and everyday folks. It provides a means of coping in a world of human error and foibles where nothing is ever as simple as it seems, everything takes longer than expected, and inanimate objects possess an innate perversity. In sum it is rich testimony to the resiliency of the human spirit in facing the pitfalls and potholes of modern life. Though the vast majority of these life lessons were gathered in the 20th century, they are still timely and concise enough to fit inside the framework of a tweet. Recognizing the humor in adversity, these comic truths encourage acceptance of life's little imperfections. For example, Agnes Allen's timeless law: "Almost anything is easier to get into than out of."

This is what might be called the ideal bathroom book. Turning to a page at random, I have just now lighted on “Cramer’s Law of the Sea”: “You’re not really seasick when you are afraid you’ll die, but when you’re afraid you’ll live.” Quigley’s Law goes, “Whoever has any authority over you, no matter how small, will attempt to use it.” Shoe-Shopper’s Rule: “If it feel’s good, it’s ugly. If it looks good, it hurts.” Dickson — author of many books about language and baseball — generously identifies the people who formulated his various rules. If there’s another edition, I hope he’ll add “Dirda’s Dictum”: “Every fifteen-minute job takes an hour.” Credit should go to my father. Michael Dirda—“Library Without Walls”

I followed up with Authorisms—Words Wrought by Writers published in the U.S. on April 23, 2014 in honor of that day in 1564 marking the sesquiquadricentennial or 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, now and forever, the greatest neologist of the English language and then in the U.K. on July 3rd. I was delighted to receive some of the best press I've ever gotten on both sides of the Atlantic. Below are a few examples:

“This genial book celebrates above all the dazzling inventiveness of authors.” – Wall Street Journal

“Dickson … has written a dozen word books and dictionaries. In Authorisms, it’s clear he has perfected the genre. His tone is light but informed. He sprinkles in his own wit and several amusing digressions, involving recipe-containing footnotes for anchovy paste (spun off an entry detailing the first English appearance of “anchovy” in “Henry IV, Part I”) and “daiquiri” (popularized by F. Scott Fitzgerald). Dickson’s prose is readable even when it delves into more scholarly debates, such as how many words Shakespeare coined, with estimates ranging from several hundred to more than 10,000. Dickson is also careful about making clear when a writer invented a word vs. having been the first one to record it.

Authorisms is an unputdownable (Raymond Chandler) exercise in philology that makes you chortle (Lewis Carroll). As James Fenimore Cooper would have said, “A-Number-1."” – The Washington Post

“A rich history of neologisms that reveals how funny and random language is … Surprises and revelations abound in Dickson’s quirky alphabet … Dickson restores a shock of novelty to words or phrases that have become shop-soiled … As a herbivore, Dickson expects words to taste good when they’re uttered and he acknowledges that they can sometimes go to the head and leave us feeling woozy … Why, I wondered while reading Authorisms, is all this so funny and so much fun? Perhaps because it demonstrates that language is a comically implausible, absurdly unnecessary phenomenon, airy proof of the lightness of our being. Dickson deluights in harmless insults, such as “Malaga!” – a dire-sounding but nonsensical curse from a Dumas novel – or Ben Bradlee’s gloriously learned “retromingent”, which refers to insects that pee backwards; he also take a riotous pleasure in onomatopoeic noises such as “chortle” and “chug-a-lug”” – Peter Conrad, The Observer

“For language fanciers it is a potentially vertiginous thought that every single word must once have been coined by a particular individual … Pleasantly surprising … The lesson I drew from this book at last, was that successful coinage, like happiness, may be more likely the less you aim directly at it.” – Steven Poole, Guardian

I am now working on a book which is near completion and will be published in 2015 by Melville House. It's working title is Contraband Cocktails—A Discursive Prohibition Formulary. My pitch for Contraband Cocktails is that much has been written about Prohibition in the United States of America (1920-1933) but precious little has been written about the paradoxical rise of the cocktail and a stylish, urbane “cocktail culture” which began to appear at the very moment mixed drinks became illegal. Contraband Cocktails will remedy this situation with a discourse on the subject and an annotated formulary of drinks from the Dry Years including many created during the period.

My next book will be my second biography about another fascinating baseball figure. The working title is Leo Durocher--The Man They Loved to Hate.

For a list of all the books I've written, many of which are still available in bookstores, click on "All My Books." Though a lot of the older ones are now out of print, I have extra copies of many of them and would be happy to sell them directly--autographed if you wish. Simply e-mail me for a list of available titles and prices.

Also, two of my older books, War Slang and Baseball's Greatest Quotations have recently joined others released as e-books.

If I have a book signing or speaking engagement which present an opportunity to "meet the author" or purchase signed books I will post it on the Events page. I will also list any upcoming TV appearances or radio shows I'll be on.

My literary agent is Deborah C. Grosvenor of the Grosvenor Literary Agency in Bethesda, MD She can be reached by email at: dcg@​

I live in Garrett Park, MD with my wife Nancy who works with me.

If you have comments or questions please e-mail me at newdefiner@​ and I'll reply as soon as I can.

Selected Works

A dictionary of the secret language of families
The only slang dictionary arranged by topic--now substantially revised and expanded.
In our globally interconnected age, misnaming where someone is from or the cultural group to which they belong often constitutes more than a harmless social gaffe. Labels for Locals provides guidance on the preferred, and sometimes disdained, names for selected locales, cities, regions, countries, and ethnic groups worldwide.
American Fighting Words and Phrases Since the Civil War--Recommended by William Safire in his New York Times Magazine "On Language" column.
American History: narrative non-fiction
The all but forgotten but dramatic story of WWI vets from their historic march on Washington in 1932, to demand the bonus promised them for their wartime service, to the passage of the GI Bill which was their lasting legacy.
"... an old-fashioned whiz-bang: Dickson's most complicated, most rewarding book yet." -James H. Bready, The Baltimore Sun, July 6, 2003
Baseball fans young and old are certain to enjoy this book. Wes Lukowsky, Booklist
"That rarest of sports books, a valuable reference work that provides absorbing and enlightening reading." -Sports Illustrated
"Paul Dickson's indefatigable research and reportorial lucidity have given us a fascinating history of the event that forever changed our world." -Walter Cronkite
Special occasion? Need a toast? For ideas and inspiration check it out--over 1500 of the Best Toasts, Sentiments, Blessings, and Graces.