Green’s Dictionary of Slang News

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July 2017 Update

Welcome to the third and latest update to the online version of Green’s Dictionary of Slang. Research over the last three months has added 215 new slang terms, 474 entries have been predated as to their currently recorded ‘first use’ and over 2,650 citations – including predates, inter-dates and post-dates to reflect the continuing use of many terms –  have been uploaded. The database currently offers 54,618 headwords (within which are nested 133,000 discrete words and phrases, underpinned by a total of 626,000 citations). All of this new material can be seen by subscribers; the changes that are reflected by the predates  are also shown in alterations in the approximate dating used in the absence of citations: for instance ‘late 19C’ to ‘early 19C’, ‘1980s+’ back to ‘1940s+’, and so on. But as ever, for those who want or need to access the detailed heart of the data, we have to recommend a subscription.

For an overview, in chronological order, all users of the dictionary can go here. This uses the same software as the Timelines of Slang. New terms are marked in red, predates in blue.

While research continues to look at what in slang might be termed both ends of the busk, in other words both old and new (though in fact a coarse 18th century toast), the lexicographical grail of finding the earliest recorded use of a term means that we are often focused on the past. This has led us to one of the late 19th century’s stranger titles, Australia’s Dead Bird, published in Sydney, NSW, from 1889 to 1891. The title was slang, meaning a ‘dead cert’ for racecourse gamblers, and the paper can ostensibly be bracketed with the UK’s Sporting Times (aka ‘The Pink ’Un’) and America’s Spirit of the Times, also self-identified as ‘sporting’ papers, with an accent on sport in its widest senses.

We know little of the Bird’s personnel. Its owner was one Charles Mark Curtiss, who seems to have been something of a minor press baron. Otherwise all was pseudonymous. Like the Sporting Times, which rejoiced in such signatories as The Dwarf of Blood, The Tale-Pitcher, Peter Blobbs, the Stalled Ox and many others, the Bird offered the Early Bird, the Old ’Un, the Rorty Rooster, the Prodigal, the Emu and so on. Unlike its London cousin it also boasted a pair of ‘girls’, albeit generic and serving a variety of purposes, usually with an accent, generally muted, on sex: ‘Flossie Fewclothes’ and ‘Tottie Titefit,’ with occasional walk-ons from ‘Lottie Lacepantze’. They were cast as usually chorus-girls, and ‘The Hartist,’ another pseudonym, illustrated such lovelies in as minimal garb as the era permitted.

If these names suggest a certain smuttiness, so they should. It is the world that a decade later gave us Leopold Bloom enjoying inadvertent seashore upskirts and musing over ‘wondrous gowns and costliest frillies’. The Dead Bird, to an extent that had not been seen in Australia since another off-colour  publication, the Satirist and Sporting Chronicle, had flourished very briefly in 1843, specialized in double entendres. Some took the form of elaborate puns, others were faster on the draw; all had an air of what were termed ‘smoking-room’ stories, the province of men who, for all their self-proclamation as gents (with the casual racism, wide-spectrum xenophobia and loudly paraded patriotism that went with the pose) were more accurately categorised as either bounders or cads.

This, from 28 December 1889, is typical:

Says Mrs A., ‘What are you going to have for your Christmas dinner?’ says Mrs B., ‘Well, if Joe is at home I will have a good goose, but if he is not at home I do not know what I will have’.

Or this, from August of the same year, with a nudge at slang’s take on stand:

A special grandstand is to be erected for the Shah of Persia to view the Kempton Park (England) race meeting. It is said the Shah prefers a grandstand to a temporary erection.

Moustaches were doubtless twirled and ribs nudged. The readers thought themselves fearful fellows, but the word that emerges is snigger. As for sport in its athletic sense, there was much horse-racing, some boxing and an occasional foray into cricket and lesser competitions. Bowing to the word’s more raffish definition, there was seemingly non-stop drinking, always to excess, and a near obsession with the mysteries – ideally rendered visible through the disarray that followed on a droolingly recounted trip or stumble – of women’s lingerie. There was a good deal of kissing, which, it was usually implied, was merely a preliminary to more intimate examples of yum-yum. The paper was never pornographic, but as the prosecution which closed it in January 1891 alleged, judged by contemporary prudery, it was surely obscene. For the record, the problematic par. told of a girl who had been ‘under the doctor’ for a week.

All of which is background. What matters is that the Bird was remarkably slangy. Its issues – weekly for just 16 months – offered 603 instances and of these 132 pushed our knowledge of a term’s coinage back beyond what had hitherto been recorded. Among these revised ‘first uses’ are barrack (to cheer for a team)  beer-chewer (a drunk), bumper (a cigarette end), half-a-caser  (half-a-crown), continuations (legs), cop-man (policeman), ding-dong (a fight), dolled up (dressed up), lovey–dovey (affectionate), man-eater (a sexually forward woman), straight goer (a dependable individual) and ornythorhynchus  properly a duck-billed platypus, but here an importuning creditor, ‘a beast with a bill’. Brand new terms include smock-dozzler (a womanizer), Cabbageopolis (Melbourne), gospel grabber (a preacher), nadget (the head), rinse one’s neck (to drink) and have sand in one’s teeth (to lose one’s temper).

The Dead Bird was laid to rest with the final issue of January 1891. A week later, with due fanfare and much teasing of the authorities, appeared its successor The Bird o’ Freedom.




April 2017 Update

Welcome to the April 2017 update of Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online.

As in the January update, the broad-brush goal has been to continue slang research, both historical and contemporary. To that end 296 new terms have been added to the database, 314 entries have been predated as to their currently recorded ‘first use’ and well over 2,000 citations – including predates, inter-dates and post-dates to reflect the continuing use of many terms –  have been uploaded. All of this new material can be seen by subscribers; the changes that are reflected by the predates  are also shown in alterations in the wide-spectrum dating: for instance ‘late 19C’ to ‘early 19C’, ‘1980s+’ back to ‘1940s+’, and so on. But as ever, for those who want or need to access the detailed heart of the data, we have to recommend a subscription.

For an overview, in chronological order, of all new terms and predates, all users can go here. This uses the same software as the Timelines of Slang. New terms are marked in red, predates in blue.

As well as researching new material, the last quarter has also seen a new project, like the Timelines devoted to a new ways of visualizing the slang lexis. This project, Slang Family Trees, has so far covered the following (highly popular) areas of slang:

and the most recent ‘tree’, another one requiring two parts:

For the purposes of this quarter’s update, we have focused on the slang of Britain’s colonial era in India. The best-known dictionary of that language, Hobson-Jobson by Henry Yule and A.C. Burnell, was published in 1886. In terms of bare statistics the database now covers 79 words/senses OED does not, and 50 words/senses that did not find a place in Hobson-Jobson itself. Moreover, of the 47 terms that are in OED, GDoS has now been able to antedate some 45%. Approximately 1,000 new citations have been added to this lexical subset.

Rather than deal fully with that here, we offer a separate post, co-written with fellow lexicographer James Lambert, which explains what has been done, and looks at a few of the words.


Slang Family Trees. Number 5: The Penis

Just added to the Slang Family Trees, 1332 terms for the Penis, arranged as to semantic/thematic linkage. A .pdf can be found here:


Slang Family Trees



A Sample of ‘Drunk’

Events beyond my control are making the next installment of Heroes and Heroines of Slang a little late. In the meantime dictionary users might enjoy a new and on-going project: Slang Family Trees. The aim of this is twofold. On the one hand, and like the Timelines of Slang, it is another way of visualizing the slang database. On the other, the product of that visualization is to present some of slang’s primary themes – such as sex, the parts of the body, drunkenness or the police – in terms of the way slang sees them. If the Timelines put the many synonyms in chronological order, the Family Trees show the way these underlying images extend out from the central theme. In this way of seeing the vocabulary, the vagina, for instance, is not simply a hole, but an abyss, a ring, an entrance, a passage, a road, a container and a box. Slang has terms that fit each of these sub-sets and many more. The system can applied to any of slang’s themes.

These are the current family trees:

The ‘penis’ family tree will be posted soon. The aim is to cover all those topics that slang has developed to a greater extent than has any other linguistic register.



The Heroes of Slang: A Short Introduction


In an attempt to add a third dimension to the lexicon (beyond, that is, the predictable team of ‘here’s a word or phrase’ and ‘here’s what it means’), GDoS is proposing a new series, lexico-biographies as it were: The Heroes of Slang. The bibliography behind this website is moving towards 10,000 sources; there is no chance, nor wish to cover them all (see here for a timeline of the most prolific). But the Heroes of Slang will be just that: a week-by-week go-round of those who have done most to bring slang into the limelight, whether creators, exploiters or collectors. The aim is to offer some back-story, some biography and a range of the slang that’s associated with their work. We can’t, again, look at everything — Irving Welsh, for instance, is cited for 1,400 terms — but these posts will show the flavour of each artist through the best of the slang they use.


The series will begin next week, with the ‘profane and lewd writings’ of Lord Rochester, a dissolute aristocrat and ‘one of the wittiest poets’ of the late 17th century who, to quote the Oxford Companion to English Literature, wrote ‘more frankly about sex than anyone in English before the 20th century.’ Slang’s version of lit. crit. is a little more focused: he offers some 200 early terms; and a good two-thirds of them referenced aspects of what in a very rare example of euphemism, he termed et-caetera


But first, a brief introduction.


January 2017 Update

We are pleased to announce the first of what will be regular three-monthly updates to Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online.

Since the launch in October 2016 on-going research has added 2,250 new citations, 351 antedatings of recorded use, and 371 new slang words and phrases.

New words include brinsy (1639), skin the fox (1683), lappy-gagger (1717), jamming cull (1739), dance a lunching-drum (1867), poison shover (1893), blood on the moon (1901), square Jane, no nonsense (1917), Anzac poker (1921), sneak disser (2012), S.L.I.M.E. (2014) and manaman (2016).

Notable antedates include in the days of Queen Dick (1652 from 1786), unruly member (1683 from 1734), Newgate knocker (1781 from 1843), go to it (1812 from 1956), shicer (1845 from 1936), pleased as a dog with two cocks (1859 from 1915), dornick (1900 from 1933), prat (1901 from 1940) and axle grease (1941 from 1981). Details are to be found in the database.

To take a look at what has been done as regards antedates and new material, we have created a timeline of the updates. New material is marked with a red star, antedates with a blue. Subscribers, who have access to the citations that underpin every entry and sense, will be able to see all these in the dictionary itself; other users will benefit in improved dating and of course the new words.

The research for GDoS includes material from all English-speaking countries, and covers over half a millennium of slang creation. The new research looks at both geographical and chronological developments. Thanks to the Trove database of Australian newspapers we have been able to look particularly at Australian material (some 277 additions or revisions), which work has been coupled to a specific project, in collaboration with Dr James Lambert of the National Institute of Education, Singapore, the ante-dating of material gathered in the 1940s by Australian lexicographer  Sidney J. Baker. Mr Baker offered no supporting proofs of his glossary; this has now been, where possible, provided.

New material has looked particularly at music, drawing on recent rap and grime lyrics. This is naturally a vast topic: it will continue. In addition, the continuing reading of on line databases, individual books and other print publications, current newspapers and social media, has naturally added slang at all stages of the lexis, in this particular selection going back to the 16th century.

In terms of functionality

  1. the advanced search now provides a count of results
  2. a quicker way through from bibliography entries to cites (users can click through from a given bibliography entry to find the relevant citations)
  3. as the first move towards creating a variety of ways which will allow non-subscribers to see what the full dictionary has to offer, a ‘Word of the Week’ will permit non-subscribers to see a full entry, with its supporting citations. Our first Word of the Week is the boys.

Welcome to GDoS Online

I saw that one enquiry only gave occasion to another, that book referred to book, that to search was not always to find, and to find was not always to be informed; and that thus to persue perfection, was, like the first inhabitants of Arcadia, to chace the sun, which, when they had reached the hill where he seemed to rest, was still beheld at the same distance from them.

— Johnson’s introduction to the Dictionary of the English Language (1755)

Today marks the launch of Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online, a digitized version of Green’s Dictionary of Slang, which originally appeared as a three-volume book in 2010. Everything that was in that book is available here, plus the fruits of over five more years of research. That book, however, was a beginning. Research continues and for the first time, the evolving database will be able to reflect the on-going additions and improvements that make it a unique resource.