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Title: Blurb  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Gelett Burgess, Dust jacket, The Murder on the Links, The Man in the Brown Suit, Book publishing
Collection: Book Design, Book Publishing, Book Terminology, Marketing
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


The original blurb

A blurb is a short promotional piece accompanying a creative work. It may be written by the author or publisher or quote praise from others. Blurbs were originally printed on the back or rear dust-jacket of a book, and are now found on DVD and video cases, web portals, and news websites. A blurb may introduce a newspaper or magazine feature story.


  • History 1
  • Books 2
    • Parody blurbs 2.1
  • Movies 3
  • References and sources 4
  • External links 5


Gelett Burgess circa 1910

In the US, the history of the blurb is said to begin with Walt Whitman, who used a phrase from a letter sent to him by Ralph Waldo Emerson as a blurb on subsequent copies of Leaves of Grass, which had printed on the side of the second edition, "I greet you at the beginning of a long career", followed by Emerson's name.[1]

The word "blurb" was coined in 1907 by American humorist Gelett Burgess (1866–1951).[2] His 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 text remained.

In Germany, the blurb 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 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.

In the 1980s, Spy Magazine ran a regular feature called "Logrolling in Our Time" which exposed writers who wrote blurbs for one another's books.[3]

Parody blurbs

Many humorous books and films parody blurbs that deliver exaggerated praise by unlikely people and insults disguised as praise.

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 are part of the promotional campaign for films, and usually consist of positive, colorful extracts from published reviews.

Movie blurbs have often been faulted for taking words out of context.[4][5][6][7] 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 and The Blurbs, a Web column for Gelf magazine written by Carl Bialik of The Wall Street Journal."[8]

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."[9]

References and sources

  1. ^ Dwyer, Colin (27 September 2015). "The Curious Case Of The Book Blurb (And Why It Exists)".  
  2. ^ The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language. Ed. David Crystal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. p. 132. ISBN 0521401798
  3. ^ "Spy: The Funny Years". Variety. Retrieved 25 August 2014. 
  4. ^ Reiner, L. (1996). "Why Movie Blurbs Avoid Newspapers." Editor & Publisher: The Fourth Estate, 129, 123.
  5. ^  
  6. ^ Sancton, Julian (March 19, 2010). "Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Bounty Hunter, Repo Men"Good Blurbs from Bad Reviews: . Vanity Fair. Retrieved February 28, 2013. 
  7. ^ McGlone, Matthew S. (2005). "Contextomy: The Art of Quoting Out of Context." Media Culture, & Society, Vol. 27, No. 4, 511-522.
  8. ^ Barnes, Brooks (June 6, 2009). "Hollywood's Blurb Search Reaches the Blogosphere".  
  9. ^  
  • The story of Miss Belinda Blurb at
  • Original dust jacket at the Library of Congress

External links

  • "A Few Words About Blurbs", essay by Steve Almond, Sep. 8 2003
  • "To Blurb or Not to Blurb?", essay by Bill Morris, Feb. 15 2011
  • "A Brief History of the Blurb", by Alan Levinovitz, Feb. 1 2012
  • "'Riveting!': The Quandary of the Book Blurb", New York Times, March 6, 2012
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