Following up this post:
Adonis to Zorro: Oxford Dictionary of Reference and Allusion, by Andrew Delahunty and Sheila Dignen, is the third edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Allusions (1st ed. 2001). It’s very nicely produced and laid out, with each phrase provided with both an explanation and one or more citations; thus “cupboard was bare” has the “Old Mother Hubbard” rhyme and includes a quotation from BusinessWeek Magazine 2004 (“We were barely breaking even, and the cupboard was bare”). I did not know that the phrase “naughty but nice” comes from an 1871 music hall song “It’s Naughty but It’s Nice.” The problem with such books is that they’ve largely been superseded by the internet, and yet that last bit of information is not easily found by googling (cf. the unhelpful Wikipedia page). So maybe there’s a place for such a book after all.
Toponymity: An Atlas of Words, by John Bemelmans Marciano, covers words derived from place names, like skid row (from a corduroy road, probably in the Pacific Northwest, down which logs were skidded) and tuxedo (from Tuxedo Park, New York, whence the garment spread throughout America; it came from the U.K., where it is known as a dinner jacket—I hadn’t realized that it was designed by Queen Victoria’s son Edward as a casual alternative to formal evening wear!). The author is an artist who happens to love words, so one would not want to use the book as a basic reference (I’ve already noticed that he states that magnets are so called from “Magnesia, a city on the banks of the Maeander River,” a very contentious statement—see this LH post), but it’s full of enjoyable anecdotes.
From the Horse’s Mouth: Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms, by John Ayto, is a nicely organized work with lots of cross-references and citations, but it’s not as thorough as one would like. For instance, it has the idiom “be all mouth (and no trousers),” meaning “tend to talk boastfully without any intention of acting on your words,” but with no hint that the more common form, however illogical, is “all mouth and trousers” (see here, for example). There is also no indication that the phrase is exclusively U.K. (or Commonwealth? it’s certainly not U.S.), and in general the book seems geared to U.K. usage.
Secret Language: Codes, Tricks, Spies, Thieves, and Symbols, by Barry J. Blake, does what it says; it’s got sections headed Palindromes, Cryptic Crosswords, The Rebus, Equivocation and Prevarication, Steganography, Notarikon, Gematria, Texts of Power, Jargon, Abusive Language, etc. etc. There’s a chapter “Words to Avoid,” with separate sections for Names of Humans and In-Laws; I don’t think any slight to in-laws was intended, however. There are lots of neat examples from other languages, and the author is an actual linguist. If this is the sort of thing you like, I expect you will like this book.