In a Nutshell




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In a Nutshell : Phrases



Meaning:

In a few words, or very briefly explained.


Example:

Why write a long article when you could say it
in a nutshell - in one phrase?


Origin:

The Iliad in a nutshell. Pliny tells us that Cicero asserts that the whole Iliad was written on a piece of parchment which might be put into a nutshell. Lalanne describes, in his Curiosités Bibliographiques, an edition of Rochefoucault’s Maxims, published by Didot in 1829, on pages one inch square, each page containing 26 lines, and each line 44 letters. Charles Toppan, of New York, engraved on a plate one-eighth of an inch square 12,000 letters. The Iliad contains 501,930 letters, and would therefore occupy 42 such plates engraved on both sides. Huet has proved by experiment that a parchment 27 by 21 centimètres would contain the entire Iliad, and such a parchment would go into a common-sized nut; but Mr. Toppan’s engraving would get the whole Iliad into half that size. George P. Marsh says, in his Lectures, he has seen the entire Arabic Koran in a parchment roll four inches wide and half an inch in diameter. (See ILIAD.) 1 To lie in a nutshell. To be explained in a few words; to be capable of easy solution. From E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898

Alternative: Nutshells, being the
hard exterior within which the kernel of a nut is enclosed (Oxford English Dictionary), don't get very big since nuts themselves are generally fairly small. Nutshells themselves were first used as metaphors for something very small back in 1602, when Shakespeare had Hamlet declare, O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count my selfe a King of infinite space. Anything that could fit in a nutshell would have to be very small, and by the 18th century all the major writers were cramming things into nutshells.







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