Common Phrases and Where They Come From, by Myron Korach and John Mordock (Lyons Press, 200 pages, $9.95 softbound).
There are entire library shelves of lexicons of phrases and fables, and I have never met one I didn't like. But this fresh entry, while far from comprehensive, has the particular charms of being straightforward and uncluttered. I didn't know that the emperor Pompey was the first to take things -- everything he drank -- with a grain of salt, which he believed was antidote against poisons. I had forgotten that it was the English judge Francis Butler in 1732 who ruled that a man "could not beat his wife with a stick larger than the diameter of his thumb," thus forever establishing the rule of thumb in the language. Lots of good stuff for trivia quizzes and general entertainment.