A Common-Place Book for the 21st Century

Common Place book cover 001Most of the Common-Place books you find in auctions or second-hand bookshops date from the nineteenth century—usually before about 1860—and are dull, dull, dull! They invariably contain passages from history books, books of sermons, and extracts from poems by Felicia Hemans and Robert Southey. Often they are illustrated by amateurs who like to think they can draw. Occasionally there are exceptions to this rule, but these rarely surface. So it’s nice in this Age of the Internet to find a Common –Place book that contains some information that is not always easy to find using Google. Such is the volume that we at Jot HQ discovered in a box of ephemera the other day.

This item in question is an orange, octavo sized HMSO indexed book containing entries in ink and biro and clippings from magazines, the latest of which dates from 2007 check. The writer may be someone called Michael Revett—because under ‘ Anagrams’ we find three offerings, namely Vertical Theme, Three Malt Vice and Three Claim Vet. There is a Michael C. Revett who in 1975 married the printmaker Eileen Revett in Suffolk, and he seems to be the only real candidate. This Revett is interested in computing and other aspects of science and technology, because one of the cuttings comes from the New Scientistand many of the Common-Place book entries have a scientific theme.

Here are some of the more entertaining facts in the book:


Some profound observations by Mr Yogi Berra, the famous American baseball player.

‘You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there’

‘You can observe a lot by just looking’

‘There are some people, if they don’t already know, you can’t tell ‘em’.

‘You don’t hear much about born-again Buddhists’.


The PC – XT class machine built in 1953 technology would have a volume of 43,000 cu.ft ( 1 acre by 1ft deep), need 2,000MW & have an mtbf of 0.65s. (Arthur Stern, keynote speech at ISCC, 1993)

Jean Cocteau: ‘We must believe in luck, for how else can we explain the success of those we dislike’.


Double entry accounting: developed by Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan monk & published in a book in 1494.


Einstein: ‘Make things as simple as one can, but not simpler than they are’.


Gung ho: first two characters in Chinese name of the Chinese Industrial Cooperative (CIC) set up in 1937 in Hankow with help of UK (Rewi Alley). Adopted by a US Marine as motto/battle cry of his unit ( S. Winchester,Bomb, Books & Compass, p 117)


Hendiadys: Complex idea expressed by two words connected by ‘and’, eg. nice and warm, that is, nicely warm.


‘Insight in Science needs concentrated effort and preparation’ (Martin Rees)


Journalism—1stLaw: ‘first simplify, then exaggerate.’


‘Game of Life’ : John Conway


  • Every cell with 2 or 3 neighbours survives
  • Every cell with 4 or more neighbours dies
  • Every cell with1 or 0 neighbours dies
  • Every empty cell with 3 neighbours is filled.

Loo,  ref ‘The Perfect Summer’, Juliet Nicholson, p80. Lady Louise Anson, on visit to Vice Regal Lodge in Ireland, was rude to Viceroy’s children. They retaliated by putting her name card from her bedroom door on the door of the water-closet. The story spread and people began to say they were off to visit Lady Lou, which gradually became ‘the Loo’.



Some men interpret nine memos

Never odd or even

Murder for a jar of red rum

Dogma: I am God

Ah, Satan sees Natasha.

Norma is as selfless as I am, Ron.

Go deliver a dare, vile dog!

Do geese see God?


Punnet: invented by a Mr Punnett, for use to contain strawberries.

Pangram ( holalphabetic sentence)

(28) Waltz, bad nymph, for quick jigs vex.


‘Your wedding is like a funeral where you get to smell your own flowers’.



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