The Reverend Guppy's Aquarium, By Philip Dodd

If Mr Frisbie had succeeded first time round, we'd all be flinging Pluto Platters
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The Independent Culture

"He's earning a Saatchi," advertising executives reputedly used to say back in the Eighties. To be truthful, it wasn't one of the Saatchi brothers but another adman whose name was used to signify the then-impressive salary of a hundred grand. With rocketing incomes, his name is as forgotten as those musical instruments that have now gone silent: the sarrusophone, named after the bandmaster Pierre-Auguste Sarrus; its first cousin the rothphone, designed by Ferdinando Roth of Milan; the heckelphone, the missing link between the oboe and the bassoon, dreamed up by Wilhelm Heckel; and the mullerphone, created by Louis... but you're ahead of me here.

Adolphe Sax's saxophone is very much with us. Another successful term, the Oscar, derives from the throwaway remark by Margaret Herrick of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts that its statuette resembled her Uncle Oscar. Later, as Philip Dodd relates in The Reverend Guppy's Aquarium, she wished she had thrown away the thought before uttering it, as she decided "Oscar" was insufficiently grand for the award. Also, she had never met the uncle and had no idea what he looked like.

Instead of writing yet another dictionary of eponyms – which is a name derived from another name – Dodd decided to flesh out the stories that gave birth to the sandwich, the silhouette, the maverick and other nouns with uncommon origins. The idea came when he learnt that the fish in his family's aquarium was named after the Rev Robert Lechmere Guppy of Trinidad.

Interesting though that is, it is followed in subsequent chapters by too many snippets of less than riveting details about Dodd's interest in musical museums and lack of interest in gardening, all of which an editor should have binned. The interviews, even the short ones, tend to go on too long.

All this spoils the impact of Dodd's conscientious research and international travel. Let's hope for a trimmed-down edition concentrating solely on eponymous heroes such as Harry Fox of foxtrot fame. Then there's Jules Léotard, the trapeze artiste whose revealing tights made him the target of randy Parisiennes, not to mention Joseph Frisbie of the family pie business. His tins were used by customers as flying saucers and, after a failed campaign to launch them as "Pluto Platters", were re-branded as Frisbees. And a big hand for the gynaecologist Dr Gräfenberg, known only for the "G" – as in G-spot.

RH Books, £12.99. Order for £11.69 (free p&p) on 0870 079 8897

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