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A blurb is a short summary or promotional piece accompanying a creative work. The word was coined in 1907 by American humorist Gelett Burgess (1866-1951). It may refer to the text on the back of a book but can also be seen on DVD and video cases, web portals and news websites. A blurb may introduce a newspaper or magazine feature story.
The word blurb originated in 1907. American humorist Gelett Burgess's short 1906 book Are You a Bromide? was presented in a limited edition to an annual trade association dinner. The custom at such events was to have a dust jacket promoting the work and with, as Burgess' publisher B. W. Huebsch described it,
- "the picture of a damsel — languishing, heroic, or coquettish — anyhow, a damsel on the jacket of every novel"
In this case the jacket proclaimed "YES, this is a 'BLURB'!" and the picture was of a (fictitious) young woman "Miss Belinda Blurb" shown calling out, described as "in the act of blurbing."
The name and term stuck for any publisher's contents on a book's back cover, even after the picture was dropped and only the complimentary text remained.
The blurb was developed simultaneously in Germany where it is regarded to have been invented by Karl Robert Langewiesche around 1902. In German bibliographic usage, it is usually located on the second page of the book underneath the Half title, or on the dust cover.
A blurb on a book or a film can be any combination of quotes from the work, the author, the publisher, reviewers or fans, a summary of the plot, a biography of the author or simply claims about the importance of the work. Many humorous books and films parody blurbs that deliver exaggerated praise by unlikely people and insults disguised as praise.
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail - "Makes Ben Hur look like an Epic"
- 1066 and All That - "We look forward keenly to the appearance of their last work"
The Harvard Lampoon satire of The Lord of the Rings, entitled Bored of the Rings, deliberately used phony blurbs by deceased authors on the inside cover. One of the blurbs stated "One of the two or three books...", and nothing else.
Movie blurbs usually consist of positive, colorful words and phrases taken from published reviews; they have often, also, been faulted for taking words out of context  (see Contextomy). The New York Times reported that "the blurbing game is also evolving as newspaper film critics disappear and studios become more comfortable quoting Internet bloggers and movie Web sites in their ads, a practice that still leaves plenty of potential for filmgoers to be bamboozled. Luckily for consumers, there is a cavalry: blurb watchdog sites have sprung up and the number of Web sites that aggregate reviews by established critics is steadily climbing. ... Helping to keep studios in line these days are watchdog sites like eFilmCritic.com and The Blurbs, a Web column for Gelf magazine written by Carl Bialik of The Wall Street Journal."
Slate wrote in an "Explainer" column: "How much latitude do movie studios have in writing blurbs? A fair amount. There's no official check on running a misleading movie blurb, aside from the usual laws against false advertising. Studios do have to submit advertising materials like newspaper ads and trailers to the Motion Picture Association of America for approval. But the MPAA reviews the ads for their tone and content, not for the accuracy of their citations. ... As a courtesy, studios will often run the new, condensed quote by the critic before sending it to print."
References and sources
- The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language. Ed. David Crystal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. p. 132. ISBN 0521401798
- Reiner, L. (1996). "Why Movie Blurbs Avoid Newspapers." Editor & Publisher: The Fourth Estate, 129, 123.
- Bialik, Carl (January 6, 2008). "The Best Worst Blurbs of 2007: The 10 most egregious misquotes, blurb whores, and other movie-ad sins of 2007". Gelf Magazine. Retrieved February 28, 2013.
- Sancton, Julian (March 19, 2010). "Good Blurbs from Bad Reviews: Repo Men, The Bounty Hunter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid". Vanity Fair. Retrieved February 28, 2013.
- Barnes, Brooks (June 6, 2009). "Hollywood's Blurb Search Reaches the Blogosphere". The New York Times. Retrieved February 28, 2013.
- Beam, Chris (Nov. 25, 2009). "'(Best) Film Ever!!!' How Do Movie Blurbs Work?". Slate. Retrieved February 28, 2013.
- The story of Miss Belinda Blurb at wordorigins.org
- McGlone, Matthew S. (2005). Contextomy: The Art of Quoting Out of Context. Media Culture, & Society, Vol. 27, No. 4, 511-522.
- Original dust jacket at the Library of Congress