Green’s Dictionary of Slang News

Update #13 1 February 2020

Welcome to the thirteenth and latest update of the online version of Green’s Dictionary of Slang.

As ever, some statistics: research over the last three months has added 339 new slang terms; 200 entries have been predated as to their currently recorded ‘first use’ and some 3388 new citations – including ante-dates, inter-dates and post-dates to reflect the continuing use of many terms –  have been uploaded within  2303 terms. In total the database currently offers 55,387 headwords (within which are nested over 135,000 discrete words and phrases, underpinned by over 655,000 citations). All this material is on offer to every user.

For an overview, with the fruits of the last quarter’s research 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, ante-dates in blue. As pioneered in recent updates, the format has been improved: entries now link to the specific part of a database headword, its sense and where pertinent its homonym number. Unfortunately the software does not permit click-through access (this is in development) , but users will be able to see at once which part of an entry has improved.

The usual variety of authors and sources have been eviscerated for this update. Between them they cover a representative selection of slang’s eternal interests. Among them are certain stand-out providers:


Matthew Stevenson The Wits Paraphras’d (1680)



Stevenson (1654-85) appears to have had a short life and a merry one. Born in Norwich he gravitated to London where he was a minor figure amongst the wits and rakes who were to be found at the Court of King Charles II. The Wits Paraphras’d was the second reprint of an earlier, seemingly more parochial collection of poems and balls entitled Norfolk Drollery (1673). This in turn was one of many such ‘drolleries’, e.g. Choyce Drollery (1661), Westminster Drollery (1671), Windsor Drollery (1672), Holborn Drollery (1673), Covent Garden Drollery and Merry Drollery (1691). Their subtitles sum up their contents, for instance Windsor Drollery offers ‘a More Exact Collection of the Newest Songs, Poems, and Catches, Now in Use, Both in City and Country, Then Any Yet Extant’. As perhaps it was, at least until the next in line. It was a long-lasting format: by the time Thomas D’Urfey produced Wit and Mirth, Or, Pills to Purge Melancholy: Being a Collection of the best Merry BALLADS and SONGS, Old and New in 1720, the hyper-drollery as it were, the contents ran to six volumes.

Stevenson’s contribution to slang include brush someone’s jacket (to beat up), cunabling (copulation), cupboard, warren and piggin and puddle (all the vagina, the last presumably when in a state of sexual excitement and exuding ‘letch-water’) , fox-sleep (a drunken sleep) and grub (to execute by decapitation). The most important is perhaps his 257-year predated use of piss into the wind, to make a futile effort


Robert Deane Pharr S.R.O. (1971)


Robert Deane Pharr (1916-92), pictured towards the end of what had been a generally tough life, was as far from Stevenson as imaginable. An African American, he was born in Richmond Virginia, the son of Lucie Deane Pharr, a teacher, and John Benjamin Pharr, a minister. His career seemed to start well – winning a national play-writing contest while at Fisk University in Tennessee, but this was followed by three years in a sanitarium, being treated for tuberculosis and alcoholism. When he returned to the world, he began twenty years as a waiter in a variety of East Coast clubs, hotels and resorts. It was at the Columbia University Faculty Club that he gave his manuscript, for the book that would become his one real seller  —  The Book of Numbers  — to one of the publishers who ate there. The publisher was impressed, the book was published to some acclaim. The neophyte author was already 53.

S.R.O. standing for ‘single room occupancy’ appeared in 1971. If The Book of Numbers (the ‘numbers in question being the small-scale but widely played gambling game also known as ‘policy’) had been set in the past, the 1930s, this was a far more autobiographical work, set in a down-market hotel in Harlem, with its cast composed of junkies, pimps, dealers and a variety of the lowlifes who lived there.  Like the real-life Pharr (‘Sid Bailey’ in the book) the narrator worked as a waiter, drank to excess and attempted a writing career. The book, said one critic, turned out ‘profane, penetrating, but not wholly successful.’

S.R.O. had its moments but Pharr’s remaining works —  The Welfare Bitch (1973), The Soul Murder Case (1975) and Giveadamn Brown (1978)  —  went pretty much un-noticed. This didn’t deny them a healthy slang vocabulary. Pharr had seen himself as a black Sinclair Lewis (he of Babbitt, 1922) and like Lewis had no problems with using vernacular speech.

Among those terms he brings to the lexicon are back-rider (a nag), carry a stick (to use or share someone else’s accommodation but make no contribution to the rent), cat on (to leech on, to exploit), chaff-burner (a racehorse), gang job (group male to female sex), go for blows (to be wholly committed, to act seriously), house of D. (the women’s house of detention in Greenwich Avenue, New York City), drop one’s oyster (of a woman, to achieve orgasm), slobbery (socially worthless activities), titty-sucking (a general adjectival insult implying weakness) and top and bottom (the respectively ‘male’ and ‘female’ partners in a lesbian relationship, terms usually applied to sado-masochistic sex).


John Byrell Lairs, Urgers and Coat-tuggers (1996)


Australian sportswriter John Byrell’s ‘First Dinkum Oz Guide to the Racetrack’ appeared in 1996. It followed an ‘as told to’  memoir by the cricketer Jeff Thomson (Thommo Declares ‘the life and times of Australia’s most colourdful larrikin’ 1986) and Up the Cross (1983), a humorous take on Sydney’s once Bohemian King’s Cross area. As the racing book’s title makes clear, Byrell has plenty to offer for the slang collector and much of it hitherto un-noted. (All three terms refer to importuning racecourse touts). There are 111 examples of the first recorded uses of a term, and a mere foursome of improved predates. Among the former are numbered boggie (a country dweller), cattledog (to talk nonsense), flum (unsuccessful), mock-merchant (a clothing salesman), meringue (a weakling), hay pirate (a horse) and such ripe Australian phrases as not give a blurt (i.e. a fart), flat as a ballerina’s titsa whole different bucket of bream, go like a crippled cat, fast as a scared possumlike sheilas at a frock sale (unrestrained)half a hair past a freckle (a minuscule period of time) and the pessimistic if they were raffling Sydney I’d win the Jap shithouse.












GDoS Online was launched two years ago, in October 2016. Since then there have been seven updates,  the latest is forthcoming at the end of this month, and the dictionary has been expanded, improved and, not least corrected. There are now just over 55,000 headwords, within which can be found nested, i.e. included at the primary noun, verb and sometimes adjective:

1,278 derivatives

18,776 compounds

19,880 phrases

All of which are backed up by 640,451 illustrative citations.

My initial aim was to offer the dictionary in two formats: one would be free and permitted users to see A [the word, its compounds, phrases and derivatives, plus all pertinent senses] + B [an etymology] and C [a definition]. For those who were willing to pay a subscription there would also be D [the illustrative citations that show a term’s historical development]. An update, including both new terms of slang (whether from the past or present) and new citations (which meant that subject to research the much-desired ‘first recorded use’ of a given term would be continually shifted backwards) was to be added every three months.

In the two years that the dictionary has been on line there have been added:

2,215 new slang words and phrases

3,045 ante-dates, i.e.  earlier examples of first recorded use

19,947 new citations

Two years into the project, and having no intention to abandon my researches, I have decided that the dictionary in its entirety – headwords, etymologies, definitions and citations – will henceforth be made available for free. I am grateful to those who have subscribed, and for those who wish, I shall repay whatever sums are outstanding as of the relaunch. I would ask only for a little time, since the new system must first be up and running. Your subscription will continue as is until then.

Thanks too to everyone who has supported the on-going research. Please continue. All suggestions, as they say, very gratefully received.

It is intended that this change, plus the latest update, be released on 5 November.  This date may not resound with non-UK users, but elucidation can be found here:

The precise method of logging on will be explained once the relaunch is ready. It is hoped that the same URL will remain.

Some users might feel that there remains one question: why?

There are a number of practical reasons, mainly to do with administration, an area of expertise that has never traditionally appealed to lexicographers but which over-excites the various authorities who demand it. Those, however, are secondary.

What makes GDoS different from any other published slang dictionary is the range of citations, the usage examples. Researching these, finding new material, pushing back our knowledge of the first appearance of a term (and that pushing back is infinitely flexible, the only constant being that ‘back’ is almost certainly on offer to the searcher) has always been at the heart of the dictionary. Not everyone needs such material on every occasion, but it seems to me that everyone should have the opportunity to consult it. This will now be possible.

In an ideal or perhaps older world, the work might have gained institutional backing, the usual means being a publisher. But I have come long since to accept that no publisher, even including the one who (reluctantly, as they made clear) put out the print edition in 2010, feels that the work is of value or worth. No matter; death will see me off, dismissal will not. I have no choice but to continue alone and in so doing, what truly matters is visibility.

So ego, of course, enters the picture: one does the work, one wishes it to be seen and used. Otherwise one becomes nothing more than an ever-older old man, sitting in a small room, tracking down new words for, inter alia, masturbation.

When the print version appeared, a reviewer was kind enough to declare the work ‘Quite simply the best historical dictionary of English slang there is, ever has been […] or is ever likely to be.’ I am no longer responsible for proving the first half of that encomium, I am very keen to justify the second.

Jonathon Green aka Mister Slang

April 2018 Update + Hero of Slang 8: Billy Rowe

Welcome to the sixth and latest update to the online version of Green’s Dictionary of Slang.


As ever, some statistics: research over the last three months has added 301 new slang terms, 377 entries have been predated as to their currently recorded ‘first use’ and 2,775 new citations – including ante-dates, inter-dates and post-dates to reflect the continuing use of many terms –  have been uploaded. The database currently offers 54,873 headwords (within which are nested over 133,000 discrete words and phrases, underpinned by approximately 630,000 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 and continually evolving and expanding heart of the data, we have to recommend a subscription.


For an overview, with the fruits of the last quarter’s research in chronological order, all users of the dictionary can go here. This uses the same software as the Timelines of Slang. As usual the research has focused largely on newspaper databases, notably that held by the British Library, the US Library of Congress and, for Australia, Trove. These, by their nature, tend to look backwards in time, but there is also an on-going accretion of up-to-date slang.


New terms are marked in red, ante-dates in blue. The format has been improved: entries now link to the specific part of an entry, its sense and where pertinent its homonym number. Unfortunately the software does not permit click-through access (this is in development) , but users will be able to see which part of an entry has improved.



To celebrate the First Anniversary since the launch of Green’s Dictionary of Slang in October 2016 we offer a small competition.

The following text comes from a pamphlet The New Sprees of London, or, A guide to all the flash cribs of the metropolis detailed in a night’s spree of Harry Flashton and his cousin Giles : in this valuable work will be found general maxims for a night’s spree, … peep into the night houses from west to east, … description of the cadgers’ palace …, list of accommodation houses, … economical calculations of the expense of a night’s spree. Published in 1844 it was one of many such publications, a guide to ‘low life’ amusements in the capital. Harry and Giles tip their tiles to the pioneers of such exploits: Pierce Egan’s Tom and Jerry (and their pal Bob Logic). And like Egan’s best-seller, Life in London, the New Sprees was keen to demonstrate a through knowledge of current slang as proof of its authenticity. In this introduction the anonymous author addresses his readers directly:



There are approximately 70 slang terms here (some italicised, some in roman). For the purposes of our competition, the challenge is to ‘translate’ them all into standard English and, if possible, thereby to rewrite the text ‘in English’. If a translation proves too much, then a simple list will pass muster.

All the terms should be available in the free version of GDoS. If any have escaped, then try a bit of educated guesswork – it’s what slang researchers have to do all the time. (The spelling is inevitably shaky: manty, line 18, for instance, is in fact nanty as in line 2).

The fullest translation (and failing that the best shot at a comprehensive list) to arrive by Monday 13 November will receive a one-year free subscription to the dictionary. Five runners-up get a GDoS tote bag. Mr Slang will of course be amenable to bungs, dropsy, freemans, palm oil, straighteners and any other of the 64 terms whereby slang synonymizes the bribe.

Please email your solutions to

Go it, boots, and cushty bok!



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.