Green’s Dictionary of Slang News

Update #14 1 May 2020

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

As ever, some statistics: research over the last three months has added 389 new slang terms; 127 entries have been predated as to their currently recorded ‘first use’ and some 3456 new citations – including ante-dates, inter-dates and post-dates to reflect the continuing use of many terms –  have been uploaded within  2592 terms. In total the database currently offers 55,478 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. In addition, and now for the first time, the file offers ‘live’ links to the dictionary, and users will be able to check out exactly what has been added, and see it in a proper context.

 

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)

 

matthew_stevenson

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)

pharr-portrait

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)

byrell-bk

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.

 

 

Update #12 1 Nov. 2019

Welcome to the twelfth and latest update of the online version of Green’s Dictionary of Slang. It marks the third birthday of the online version of the dictionary, which was launched in October 2016. It is also twelve months since it was decided to make full access free.

As ever, some statistics: research over the last three months has added 212 new slang terms; 311 entries have been predated as to their currently recorded ‘first use’ and some 2543 new citations – including ante-dates, inter-dates and post-dates to reflect the continuing use of many terms –  have been uploaded within 1682 terms. In total the database currently offers 55,313 headwords (within which are nested over 135,000 discrete words and phrases, underpinned by over 650,000 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.

 

_______________________

Last month I was invited to Cokethorpe School in Oxfordshire to talk to the Sixth Form about slang in in the context of the emerging world of identity politics. Can the two co-exist? There is much more to be said on the topic, but this, I would suggest, was a preliminary dip of the lexicographical toe.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT SLANG

I am a lexicographer. I write dictionaries. Of slang in my case, but nonetheless, dictionaries. I’ve been doing it for around 40 years and have every intention of going on until I crash forward into the keyboard, ideally in the midst of dealing with some particularly lubricious term.

Meanwhile I am here to talk. What I want to look it is how, in what we can surely term a new world, a new social and linguistic environment as it were, I and everyone else, are going to deal with slang. Being a lexicographer I have a system. Which means my first port of call is always: tell them what it means.

Let’s start with slang itself.

Slang. I shall be coarse and I make no apologies. Such is the nature of the beast. In the words of the late, and indubitably great rock ’n’ roller Ian Dury, who was quoting something scrawled across a wall: ‘Arseholes, bastards, fucking, cunts and pricks’. That’s right: ‘Dirty words’. ‘Bad language’. That is, is it not, the popular view. And the popular view is half right. Slang is not ‘bad’ but it is language. We, or most of us, use it to communicate. On that basis it is language as much as is standard English, as much as is jargon, as much as is technicality.  As much as is any of the variant registers that make up our national speech.

So words, yes, like any others. But ‘dirty’ words? Of course I disagree. How can a word be ‘dirty’. Vowels, consonants, arranged in a certain order, used for a variety of reasons.

 

Amassing a database – 140,000 words and phrases, 650,000 quotes to back them up – and thence a dictionary from the widest possible sources, I cannot accept this easy dismissal of the topic as ‘dirty words’.

Not only that: it’s not just what the words mean, but what they do. The key word when it comes to slang is subversion. Undermining, denying, mocking, arguing. Slang scores badly when it comes to offering terms for abstract concepts, but if it has a single one, then it must be doubt. Taking the mickey, to use its own vocabulary. By the way, taking the mickey is a euphemism. It comes from taking the mickey bliss, which is rhyming slang. Whether there was a real-life Mr Bliss I haven’t a clue, but you will be able to guess the rhyme.

Slang doesn’t do happy-clappy. Slang offers a vocabulary and a voice to all our negatives. Our inner realities: lusts, fears, hatreds, self-indulgences. It subscribes to nothing but itself – no belief systems, no true believers, no faith, no religion, no politics, no party. It is, for those who follow Freudian psycho-analysis, the linguistic id.

 

The id, as laid out in the New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis of 1933, is:

the dark, inaccessible part of our personality, […]  we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations… It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle.

Id. The German and before that Latin for ‘it’.

It is voyeuristic, amoral, libertarian and libertine. It is vicious. It is cruel. It is self-indulgent. It treats all theologies – secular as well as spiritual – with the contempt that they deserve. It is funny. It is fun.

It is also resolutely urban.

 

No city, it has been suggested, and I agree, no slang. Standard dictionary definitions of ‘slang’ make clear what it is that links the city and its language: the over-riding suggestion is of speed, fluidity, movement. The descriptors that recur are ‘casual’, ‘playful’, ‘ephemeral’, ‘racy’, ‘humorous’, ‘irreverent’. These are not the terminology of lengthy, measured consideration. Slang’s words are twisted, turned, snapped off short, re-launched at a skewed angle. Some with their multiple, and often contrasting definitions seem infinitely malleable, shape-shifting: who knows what hides round their syllabic corners. It is not, I suggest, a language that works out of town; it requires the hustle and bustle, the rush, the lights, the excitement and even the muted (sometimes far from muted) sense of impending threat. To use slang confidently one needs that urban cockiness.

 

Slang offers long-established themes. We can see them in the slangs of classical Greek and Latin onwards. The first English lists were made in 1532 and the main imagery – sex, food, violence and intoxication – was there then. It remains, even if the lists are far, far longer. It reflects the way that we think of certain topics. One might call it stereotyping since it is often in stereotypes that slang deals but could a better synonym be psychological ‘shorthand’?

Which means to me that while the social backdrop, the environment, undoubtedly changes, slang remains indispensable. It has a job to do.

 

Why so many terms for the same thing? In this case a sample of ‘drunk’. Because slang was meant to be secret. The first recorded users were criminals. If a word was ‘translated’ by the authorities, then you came up with a new one. We’re still at it, even in this age of digitized transparency.

So what do the similarities tell us? That the basic concerns remain consistent in slang as they do in much that is human: sex, money, intoxication, fear (of others), aggrandizement (of oneself). This – broadbrush, approximate, based on some pretty wide-ranging searches – is the taxonomy, the list of topics that I have found in my database. I am may be a bit behind in the figures but this is how things are:

 

Crime and Criminals 5012 / Drink, Drinks, Drinking and Drunks 4589 / Drugs 3976 / Money 3342 / Women (of various descriptions, almost none of them complementary)  2480 / Fools and Foolish 2403 / Men (of various descriptions, not invariably, but often self-aggrandising) 2183/ Sexual Intercourse 1740 / Penis: 1351 / Homosexuals/-ity 1238 / Prostitute/-ion 1185 / Vagina 1180 / Policeman / Policing 1034 / Masturbate/-ion 945 /  Die, Death, Dead 831 / Beat or Hit 728 / Mad 776 / Anus or Buttocks 634 / Terms of Racial or National abuse: 570 (+ derivations = c. 1000, with blacks and Jews leading the parade) / Defecate/-ion & Urinate/-ion 540 / Kill or Murder 521 / Unattractive 279 / Angry 255 / Fat 247 / Vomiting 219

All concrete. No abstracts. Caring, sharing, selflessness and compassion? To use one of those euphemisms in which slang, trying to be at least vaguely polite, abounds: sweet fanny adams.

Another euphemism, by the way, another backstory: unlike Mr Bliss, the unfortunate Miss Adams definitely existed. She was just eight when in August 1867 she was murdered, then cut to pieces by one Frederick Baker. When he was hanged at Winchester that Christmas Eve, 5000 people watched the execution. The Royal Navy, with brutal humour, used the name to mean tinned mutton.

The current environment is big on safe spaces, on trigger warnings, on the obsessive avoidance of even micro-aggressions. Heaven forfend that anyone should stumble into a world that might worry them. Identity politics has weaponised the group, and seems to have cast off a layer of protective skin when it comes to shrugging off real or perceived insults.

But slang is an unsafe space. It has no time for political correctness, none for true belief. Nor does it turn the other cheek, other, perhaps than shifting a buttock all the better to deliver a noisesome fart.

Racist and nationalist, all-purpose-sexist, variously phobic, if it lacks micro-aggressions then it is because its own aggression is never merely ‘micro’. It is contemptuous of the special snowflakes and their identity politics and if it tosses snowballs, they are lined with stones. It is filled with stereotypes, how else to define the necessary ‘other’ against whom it aims its weaponry, but it lays down no commandments. It is neither naive nor optimistic, it does not demand that things be otherwise, it knows too much. It is, in other words, real. Too real?

I would not pretend that slang’s critics wouldn’t say that yes, it’s far too real, and offer many negatives to back up their opinion. And I, of course, am a special pleader. But I cannot back down: for me slang, with its emphasis on sex, drugs and at least in a figurative sense, all the self-indulgences that can be labelled rock ’n’ roll, represents its users not as they should be, but how they are. As the American comedian Lenny Bruce once noted,  everybody wants ‘what should be’, but ‘what should be’ does not exist. There is only ‘what is.’ Might I suggest: slang simply is.

Call me a cynic, but to me slang paints a picture that shows  ourselves at our most human. Which doesn’t, unfortunately, mean nice. Slang is an equal-opportunity vilifier.

One last thing: slang, the language of rebellion, is also the language of the young. It works best in the mouths of those who can still delude themselves that rebellion is possible, that utopia is just around the corner, that the new boss will not be just the old boss revisited. The old know better, or should. Form alters but substance does not and we shall see more of the same. Thus slang is the property of the young.

 

You will have noticed that I do not qualify, other perhaps than my recently installed pacemaker, as in any way ‘young’. There is something absurd about me collecting the language of you. I am 71. Next year I should be 72. Slang however, is 17. Slang is always 17. Next year and for ever after. So I cannot deny the absurdity of my job. On the other hand, do I see any takers? I am sure those who use and create the counter-language have too much fun using and creating to sit down and write it down. You may leave it to me.

All of which, dare I suggest, makes for a problem. If I have defined slang, at least as I see it, what about environment, the backdrop to this morning’s talk. I have mentioned it in passing, let us default to every lexicographer’s best friend another dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary, the great fall-back position for all definers, has a number of definitions. The one that seems relevant is number 4:

‘The social, political, or cultural circumstances in which a person lives, esp. with respect to their effect on behaviour, attitudes, etc.; (with modifying word) a particular set of such circumstances.’

And if I am honest, that environment is not especially welcoming to slang.

As my taxonomy should make clear, slang does not really do abstract concepts. Love, for instance, is conspicuous only by its absence. Making it is one thing, feeling it quite another. As I say, it’s all about doubt.

This is not what our current social environment demands. We are living in a period of black and white, of political and other zealotries, of ideological purities, of no-platforming, of the cancel culture, of condemnation by hashtag, the best-known of which is of course #metoo. None of these have much, if any toleration for nuance, for the grey area. Like a traditional Hollywood western, there are goodies and baddies, white hats and black hats. Which is how it should be, say those who promote such beliefs: all the better to identify you with. Grey areas are for wimps, the centrist dad, the slug and the melt.

OK. But they are beliefs which I, and surely I am not alone, find…difficult. Indeed, I have experienced my own micro version. I have a new book out next month (https://amzn.to/2JpW1ug).  It concerns the relationship of women and slang. Not in slang, that’s a depressing story  as one might expect from what is seen largely as a ‘man-made’ language. But about women as users, creators, exploiters and so on. The book, by the way, was to be entitled Bitching. No longer. That was censored too. I asked a friend, much celebrated in the words business herself, to write an introduction. No problems, until she mailed me: ‘as a woman, I cannot contribute my name to a book written by a man’. Then there was the copy editor who declared herself ‘uncomfortable’ with a couple of my comments, which  placed #metoo in a historical context. She demanded their removal. I have written over 60 books. This is the first censorship I have encountered.

As I say, this is the world, the environment in which we, at least the UK and much of the West, are living.

If you look at slang, and particularly the words that have been found unacceptable over the centuries, they fall into three major chunks:

  1. Religion
  2. Parts of the Body and what we do with them (mainly sex and defecation)
  3. Racism, Sexism, Homphobia and most recently a variety of Gender sensitivities

To put it another way:

BLASPHEMY (up to 18C)

PRUDERY (from late 18c onwards, though eroding)

COURTESY (1960s+)

Blasphemy lasts till around 1700. All those seemingly funny words – oddsbodikins (God’s little body), zounds (God’s wounds), ’slids (God’s eyelids) and many more –  really mattered. What was vital was not, as the Ten Commandments put it, to take the name of the word in vain. So no direct swearing about God or Jesus Christ.

Other religions – Judaism, Islam – were not included. They could be, and enthusiastically were treated with scorn and insults. It was open season on any outsider, whether through geography (which included anyone outside England, including the Scots, Welsh and Irish, let alone the French, Dutch and those from more exotic lands) and, inevitably, colour. The word racism has not been found prior to 1903, racialism is slightly earlier in 1880, but the mindset was always there. How could slang, the cradle of insults, resist.

But nothing lasts, not even piety. Blasphemy gradually lost its shock value and was replaced in taboo by what many people would see as the real ‘dirty words’. The physical stuff. Funnily enough many of these words were quite acceptable till around 1800.

If that toleration vanished, the reason was not the words as such, but the larger demands of international rivalries. Across the Channel, the French had a growing empire, and an academy of intellectuals to back it up, and the intellectuals created  a dictionary which came out in 1694 and claimed to polish the national language so as to reflect the nation’s self-image. A great power needed a great language. No more sniggering about sex or lavatories. Or not officially. And since the British too had an empire, and the French were the national enemy we had to follow suit. English had to be smartened up as well. Those words for sex and body parts were no longer acceptable. Wandering, exiled, they met the slang dictionaries and have pretty much stayed there ever since.

Last in line, ‘courtesy’. And it is courtesy, under its new names, that forms the underpinning of the current environment.

And in some ways, if we don’t like the new, sensitive world, we’ve only ourselves to blame. ‘Do you like it, do you hate it’ as the song went back then, ‘there it is the way you made it!’ Honest, we really meant well.

I would suggest this desire not to offend was very much a Sixties creation. Linguistic racism – slang terms like nigger, jewboy, paki, dago, slant-eye – was no longer acceptable, and became ever less so. Sexual slurs – queer, lezzy, tranny – joined them on the blacklist. No-one would pretend that such slurs haven’t carried on, but no-one would continue to pretend, or not successfully, that they were remotely acceptable.

 

Of course nothing’s quite so simple. One taboo didn’t stand smartly aside just because a new one had entered the room. For some people blasphemy remains vitally important, and while ‘courtesy’ is replacing ‘prudery’ to a greater extent as each generation follows its predecessor, it would be foolish to suggest that the classic ‘dirty words’ had some been washed squeaky clean. It is, dare I suggest, a grey area. On the one hand the classic four-letter words (even if the grossest of all, the ‘Oedipal polysyllable’, requires a dozen of them) have simultaneously emerged into far more open use, typically in movie or TV scripts, in rap lyrics or the pages of fiction, not to mention everyday conversations. But at the same time newspapers still opt for asterisks (and is there anything less secret than these coy punctuations?) and the terms themselves are reduced to ‘bombs’ – the ‘F-bomb’ – or ‘words’ – the ‘N-word’. Again no secrecy there, but the environment is, at least on the surface, satisfied.

At the same time, some of those who were once the subject of racial or sexual abuse, have now re-appropriated those same slurs and now brandish them as flags of pride. Nigger and queer assume a completely new life when used by men and women of colour or by homosexuals. This is interesting but the problems remain when those who lack the right still use the terms.

 

One group, you may have noticed, did not even then really make the cut. The slang database offers around 2500 words for women, and that’s not including those for sex workers (another 1000) and the parts of the female body. These, it appeared, could carry on unprotected. Feminists complained but there was no widespread take-up.

Now, of course, women stand very much centre stage. There is, among much else, a campaign to excise some of the many terms for woman or girl that, almost always slang, have entered the mainstream dictionaries. My own take, of course, is that dictionaries are there to describe, to show what is going on in the language, and not to prescribe, to say what is good and thus in addition what is ‘bad’.

This is an old argument. And to me lexicography must fight the censor, however well-intentioned: it isn’t up to the dictionary maker to act as language controller. Knowledge does not equal support. As they say on Twitter, a retweet does not imply agreement.

And if, as I believe, slang – coarse, low on optimism, accentuating the negative, is the language of what we can term ‘real life’, then how can we possibly leave out the words that reflect it?

The current environment would reject my argument. Real life is irrelevant. Each and every individual, and even more so when banded under the flag of a given identity, must be respected. You, like me, may see this as excessively keen on presenting oneself as a victim. You may, alternatively, see me as the worst type of old, privileged, white, heterosexual, Oxbridge-educated Western male. And a Jew to boot.

People enjoy slang. They love a good insult. Earlier this week, when the old lady in the Prime Minister’s constituency was vox-popped and declared him to be ‘a filthy piece of toe-rag’ there was a substantial Twitter breeze (a full-on storm would be over-egging it). Hundreds of thousands retweeted the clip, the likes of me weighed in to argue its origins (was it rags used by tramps to wrap their dirty feet or a rag used by sailors as a loo-paper substitute in sordid on-board lavatories?) Everyone had a great time. Then it blew away.

But slang continues to give pleasure. Which particular words or phrases score best is surprising, but it keeps on happening. My Timelines of Slang are available on line and I am amazed at their popularity. They may be a guilty pleasure, but they are a pleasure that people continue to indulge.

So what are we going to do about slang in the current environment? This irresistible pleasure, language’s inescapable exemplar of the naughty but still nice. But in truth I do not know. I suspect that for all the sounds and furies, with the amplification of social media, most people will pick and choose as they wish. If it ain’t broke, why fix it. If the slang word works best, then use it. Why opt for the standard when we have so many alternatives. This doesn’t mean that racial or sexual insults get a free pass. As I suggested, since the tide turned against them in the 1960s, they have very much entered the world of taboo, and are such found less and less in what one might term civilized society. And those who do exult in using them simply underline their own personality.

Slang, I say again, is the language of the young. So too is the current environment. How you position the former within the latter is very much up to you. I continue to watch but I leave the action to those who are best qualified to carry it out.

Update #10: 30 April 2019

 

Welcome to the tenth 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 265 new slang terms, the majority from the last few years; 135 entries have been predated as to their currently recorded ‘first use’ and  new citations – including ante-dates, inter-dates and post-dates to reflect the continuing use of many terms –  have been uploaded. In all there are 2329 new citations, appearing under 1565 headwords. In total the database currently offers 55,213 headwords (within which are nested over 133,000 discrete words and phrases, underpinned by approximately 640,000 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 pionered in recent updates, 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 at once which part of an entry has improved.

 

As usual the research has focused largely on newspaper databases, notably those 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. Individual ‘contributors’ include four more works by the late Robert G. Barrett, a hugely popular Australian author and creator of his hero Les Norton, two from America’s Stephen Mack Jones (August Snow and Lives Laid Away), Nico Walker’s Cherry and from Joe Lansdale (best know for his Hap and Leonard stories) Leather Maiden. Older texts include the prolific Nina Wilcox Putnam’s West Broadway and from journalist and scriptwriter Ben Hecht (celebrated for the play, latterly movie The Front Page) A Thousand and One Afternoons, a selection of his columns in the Chicago press. Plain or Ringlets, another novel by Robert Surtees, already well represented, adds to his world of rural society and the fox-hunting it enjoys. Finally, the late 17th century’s pleasingly titled Catalogue of Jilts, cracks, prostitutes, night-walkers…and others of the linnen-lifting tribe.

 

The primary single contribution comes from contributing editor James Lambert who has looked more extensively than any other researcher at the multiplicity of terms that have been created around Australia’s bogan, a socially derided class which in local terms is the current synonym for the earlier hoon or ocker, and in the wider world, of the chav. The full entries, with usage examples, are to be found here, but for those who would enjoy a summation we can offer the following:

 

Derivatives:
■ anti-bogan adj. antagonistic towards bogans or the bogan lifestyle; not bogan in style or manner. ■ boganacious adj. bogan to an extreme extent, i.e. ‘bodaciously bogan’. ■ boganaire n. [bogan + SE millionaire] a very wealthy bogan, also attrib. ■ boganalian adj. [bogan + Australia] in context of Australia conceived of as a land of bogans. ■ boganality n. bogan behaviour and mentality; ‘bogan-ness’. ■ Boganator n. a fantasy super-robot which has the characteristics of the bogan and Hollywood’s Terminator; used to identify as an uber-bogan to satirise bogan lifestyles; also attrib. ■ bogandom n. the world of bogans; bogans collectively. ■ boganese n. the highly colloquial and slangy style of speech used by bogans. ■ boganesque adj.bogan-like; somewhat bogan. ■ boganette n. a female bogan. ■ boganfest n. an event at which many bogans are present; also attrib. ■ boganfy v. to imbue with bogan-ness. ■ boganhood n. the state or quality of being a bogan. ■ boganic adj. bogan in nature, bogan-like. ■ boganify v. to imbue with bogan-ness; to stereotype as a bogan. ■ boganification n. the process of rendering a place or person characteristic of a bogan mentality or style. ■ boganise v. to imbue with bogan-ness, e.g. in customizing an automobile, thus boganised. ■ boganisation n. imbuing with bogan values and styles. ■ boganish adj. casual, unfocussed. ■ boganism n. bogan behaviour, the bogan aesthetic. ■ boganista n. [bogan + fashionista] a ‘fashionable’ and/or glamorous female bogan; also attrib. ■ boganistan n. a notional place that is primarily inhabited by those who qualify as bogans. ■ boganistic adj. bogan in nature, bogan-like; thus boganistical, boganistically. ■ boganite n. var. on bogan. ■ boganitis n. a mythical ‘disease’ whereby the bogan aesthetic is communicable to the unwary. ■ boganity n. the state of being a bogan; bogan-ness. ■ Boganland n. Australia; any area with a high population density of bogans. ■ boganless adj. free of bogans. ■ boganmobile n. any vehicle favoured by bogans, especially a customized classic Australian car. ■ boganness n. the state of being a bogan. ■ boganing n. behaving like a bogan. ■ boganocracy n. bogans as a political force or ruling power. ■ boganology n. often joc. the academic study of bogans or boganness; thus adj. boganological, boganologist. ■ boganophile n. one who loves bogans; thus boganophilia. ■ boganophobe n. (also boganophobic) one who is (irrationally) hostile towards bogans; thus boganophobia, n. hostility towards bogans, boganophobicadj. hostile towards bogans. ■ boganopolis n. any place with a high population density of bogans. ■ boganosity n. (also boganocity) the bogan aesthetic; the essence of bogan behaviour. ■ boganry n. bogan behaviour, the bogan lifestyle. ■ Boganville n. (also Bogansville) a major agglomeration of bogans, sometimes applied to an entire town or city. ■ Boganvillean.(also Boganvillia, Boganvilia Street) [pun on Bougainvillea, a common garden creeper] a var. of previous, a major agglomeration of bogans, sometimes applied to an entire town or city, thus boganvillian. ■ bogany adj. bogan in nature; typical of a bogan. ■ brogan n. [bro + bogan] a fellow bogan; a bogan who is a brother or a ‘bro’; a sibling who is a bogan. ■ fauxgan n. [Fr. faux, false/fake + bogan] a phony bogan, usu. middle or upper-middle class; one who merely pretends to the type.
In compounds:
□ bogan army n. a large gathering or group of bogans, e,.g. as football fans; bogans as a social unit. □ bogan band n. any music group, especially hard rock or Oz rock, traditionally favoured by bogans. □ bogan boy n. a young male bogan; a demeaning ad hoc nickname for someone behaving like a bogan. □ bogan brew n. any type of beer favoured by bogans, especially traditional Australian mass-produced lagers. □ bogan central n. a place with a high population density of bogans. □ bogan champagne n. one of a variety of drinks, typically inexpensive and sugary, favoured by bogans. □ bogan chariot n. any vehicle make or type stereotyped as being driven by bogans. □ bogan chic n. bogan style or fashion of choice. □ bogan chick n. a female bogan. □ bogan city n. a city or town with a high population density of bogans; a fig. ‘city of bogans’. □ Bogan Day n. 1  a fictional day on which boganism is celebrated. 2  Australia Day (26th January). □ bogan dust n. 1  (also the bogans) any narcotic or recreational drug that comes in powder form, esp. methamphetamine (rather than the more expensive cocaine). 2  small pieces of broken glass that accumulate on the side of a road or highway [the assumption being that these are from broken bottles tossed out of vehicles]. 3 (also BD) instant coffee. □ bogan girl n. a female bogan. □ bogan heaven n. any place especially loved by bogans. □ bogan juice n. any drink favoured by bogans, e.g. bourbon whiskey and coca-cola. □ bogan magnet n. a place or event that attracts bogans. □ bogan name n. a given name considered indicative of the parents’ bogan lifestyle; typically with unconventional spelling, and often a surname used as a first name. □ bogan slogan n. an expression, aphorism, motto, or the like, expressing bogan sentiments or attitudes, often found as a tattoo. □ ex-bogan n. a person who used to be a bogan; one who eschews their former bogan identity. □ inner bogan n. a bogan personality that resides within all Australians whether externally noticeable or not. □ non-bogan n. one who does not espouse bogan values. Finally □ Violent Bogan, n. one of the multiple alternatives for Victoria Bitter beer.
In phrases:
■ bogan it up v. to behave or act as a bogan. ■ bogan-spot v. (also bogan-watch) to spend one’s leisure time watching bogans, thus bogan-spotting. ■ bogan up vtr. to customize or decorate a vehicle in a manner that appeals to bogans. 2  vi. to adopt the persona and/or dress of a bogan. ■ cashed-up bogan n. (also CUB) (Aus.) a uncultured but well-off individual who spends money on bad taste, trashy, gaudy merchandise. ■ de-bogan v. to purge oneself or another of bogan style or influence. ■ out-bogan v. to outdo another bogan in one’s own boganness.

Update of 1 February 2019

 

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Welcome to the ninth 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 227 new slang terms, 117 entries have been predated as to their currently recorded ‘first use’ and 1,861 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 55,159 headwords (within which are nested over 133,000 discrete words and phrases, underpinned by approximately 640,000 citations). All this material is on offer to every user. If the volume of new material is somewhat smaller than usual, I can only plead an alternative priority: the writing of a book on women and slang, which should be published later this year.

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. For the cutting edge, more terms from London drill music have been added, and, going back in time, there are examples from the early 20th century Australian Lone Hand, a literary magazine, spun off the Sydney Bulletin, which equated itself with London’s Strand Magazine. More recent Oz-isms are delivered thanks to the memoirs of Nick Cummins, better known to fans of Aussie Rules as ‘The Honey Badger’ and Tracey Spicer, a journalist and author of The Good Girl Stripped Bare. Finally there is a substantial input from the UK music hall, quoting from songs by such as Marie Lloyd, Bessie Bellwood and Harry Champion.

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 at once which part of an entry has improved.

IMPORTANT NOTICE ABOUT SUBSCRIPTIONS

UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE GREEN’S DICTIONARY OF SLANG WILL NOT BE ABLE TO ACCEPT NEW SUBSCRIPTIONS. YOUR CURRENT SUBSCRIPTIONS WILL BE HONOURED. FURTHER INFORMATION WILL BE POSTED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

AB&Z: Anthony Burgess’ Lost Dictionary of Slang

This is the text of a talk I gave at the international Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester earlier in July 2017. It looks at Anthony Burgess’ attempt to compile a dictionary of slang, for which he was commissioned by Penguin books in 1965. As the talk explains, despite his initial committment to the task, it did work out. Brugess abandoned the task, and returned his publisher’s advance in 1966. The dictionary then seemed to vanish. Remarkably, and quite by chance, it was rediscovered in 2012 at the bottom of an old box of the author’s bed-linen.

 

What follows looks at the dictionary – its slang content and its lexicography – and at Burgess’s own involvement with slang as both reviewer and collector.I would like to thank the IABF and its director Prof. Andrew Biswell for permission to post the talk here.

 

  iabf-burgess-diary-1966-_0032

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Heroes & Heroines of Slang 5: Mary ‘Moll’ Frith

  moll

It is time for another of slang’s heroes. Or rather, heroines: this week Mary Frith, who bestrode both criminal London and the stage as her alter ego: ‘Moll Cutpurse.’

 

Frith was born near Ludgate in the City of London around 1584. For one who would go on to become a real-life ‘queen of crime’ her first recorded appearance was fittingly in a court record, accused of stealing a purse. No verdict is recorded, but there were further court appearances, again for thefts, at all of which she managed to obtain a verdict of ‘not guilty’.  In 1612, however, her luck seems to have run out. It is not certain when her nickname arrived, but it was certainly in place by that year when, writing to his friend Sir Dudley Carleton on 12 February, John Chamberlain told him how:

 

‘Mall Cut-purse a notorious bagage (that used to go in mans apparell and challenged the feild of divers gallants) was brought to [Paul’s Cross], where she wept bitterly and seemed very penitent, but yt is since doubted she was maudelin druncke, beeing discovered to have tipled of three quarts of sacke before she came to her penaunce.’ The punishment was for wearing ‘indecent dress: which as Chamberlain  makes clear, referred to Frith’s frequent sporting of male clothing.

 

By then she was indeed notorious. In a male-dominated hierarchical society she had come to epitomize much that that world feared and thus condemned. Her cross-dressing in ‘mans apparell’ was seen as undermining the established separation of genders, her frequenting of tobacco houses – the first woman recorded as so doing – and her later boast that it was a lifetime’s consumption of the weed that had ensured her longevity, was similarly subversive: women should not smoke. In these contexts, modern studies of her life have claimed her as a proto-feminist. In addition there was her image as a 17th century ‘Moriarty’, that fictional ‘Napoleon of crime,’ controlling every aspect of contemporary villainy. In her role as both receiver and broker of stolen goods she resembled her 18th century successor Jonathan Wild, who would finally be hanged for playing both ends of law-breaking against his own greedy middle.  Thus the modern historian John McMullen:

 

‘She acquired some control over the organization of thieving… and established a warehouse to handle stolen property. Her subordinates were paid higher rates and worked mainly for her; she in turn returned the stolen goods to their owners. Her influence as a receiver and thief-taker was institutionalized. Her informers and accomplices advised her about robbers and pickpockets, and advertised her reputation. She cultivated specific crimes, instigating a lucrative trade in stealing and returning shopbooks and account ledgers that had specific value only to business owners. She established a market in high-value items such as personal jewels, rings, and watches. Her influence in the underworld stemmed from her power as defender of the public interest…she provided shape and discipline to thieving gangs and she expanded the frontiers of theft.’

 

haecvir

Inevitably Frith became a symbol, and was as such celebrated and/or vilified in the contemporary media. In 1610 the writer John Day composed, but it would appear did not publish a pamphlet entitled The Madde Pranckes of Mery Mall of the Banckside with her Walkes in Mans Apparrell and to what Purpose. Four years Thomas Freeman wrote that:

 

‘They say Mol’s honest, and it may bee so,

But yet it is a shrewd presumption no;

To touch but pitch, ’tis knowne it will defile,

Moll wears the breech, what may she be the while?

Sure shee that doth the shadow so much grace,

What will shee when the substance comes in place?

 

A few years later John Taylor, the Water-Poet (named for his day job: rowing Londoners across the river Thames), praised her as a contrast to those whose lives were dominated by ephemeral fads and fashions:

 

Moll Frith doth teach them modesty,

For she doth keepe one fashion constantly,

And therefore she deserves a Matrons praise,

In these inconstant Moone-like changing dayes.

 

Frith’s finest hour came not in print, but on stage: Middleton and Dekker’s play The Roaring Girle, or Moll Cutpurse, first performed in 1611. There was no pretence about the heroine’s identity and Frith, perhaps egged on by the playwrights for purposes of publicity, even appeared on stage at the Fortune Playhouse. She was dressed as a man and closed the evening’s performance with a jig. Critics have argued over the play: some see it as an early demonstration of feminism in action; others, given the final scenes in which ‘Moll’ is re-absorbed into law-abiding society, as a sell-out, a means of ensuring that the audience left the theatre in the comforting knowledge that all was right in the larger worlds and the underworld was no more real, let alone threatening, than a stage performance. More important for our purposes is Moll’s cheerful revelation of the supposedly secret language of the underworld, its cant.

 

In the first scene of Act V the Roaring Girl meets a fellow low-lifer, one Tearcat, and as her guests, a gaggle of aristocrats, look on, puts him through an interrogation:

 

Moll: And Tearcat, what are you? a wild rogue, an angler or a ruffler…?

Tearcat: Brother to this upright man, flesh and blood, ruffling Tearcat  is my name and a ruffler is my style, my profession.

[…]

Trapdoor: I have, by the salomon, a doxy that carries a kinchin mort in her slate at her back, besides my dell and my dainty wild dell, with all whom I’ll tumble this next darkmans in the strommel, and drink ben bouse, and eat a fat gruntling cheat, a cackling cheat and a quacking cheat

 

moll2

 

All good stuff no doubt – no less than nineteen  discrete cant terms in this brief example and the whole scene carries on in the same way – but it reads less like a feasible dialogue and more like a cursorily dramatized slang glossary, bereft only of alphabetical order and explanatory definitions. In parts it echoes Harman’s canting dialogues, throwing in as many strange terms as possible into a supposedly spontaneous dialogue. Nonetheless Middleton and Dekker, who had already issued his cant-based pamphlets, were making cant available to yet another audience. The on-stage aristocrats are initially appalled by the language: ‘The grating of ten new cart-wheeles,’ complains one, ‘and the gruntling of five hundred hogs comming [sic] from Rumford market, cannot make a worse noyse then this canting language does in my eares’, but distaste leads to fascination. It is likely that the off-stage audience were similarly fascinated and equally keen to learn. The play contains some 117 terms, many of them in this contrived scene. Dekker, ever-fascinated by the underworld scene, drew on what he knew: nearly three-quarters of the words can be found in his canting pamphlets The Bellman of London or in Lanthorne and Candlelight. Several more are pre-dated by his play, The Second Part of the Honest Whore (1609). There are eleven first uses, none of them cant. To make ducks and drakes, to make a mess; fadoodling, used to mean sexual intercourse and offered as euphemistic explanation of wapping and niggling, both of which are spoken but not further explained, fleshfly, a whore, a heap, a good deal, e.g. of money;  hog-rubber, a peasant;  muzzle-chops, one who has a prominent mouth and nose; a nipping Christian, a cutpurse; puggard (from SE pug, to pull or tug), a thief; tearcat, a thug; and whisking, brisk or smart. Finally the play is the first to use moll to mean a woman, usually with overtones of promiscuity. Moll, of course, has lived on, notably in the compound gangster’s moll. The term was especially popular in the mid-19th century when it was reclaimed by cant, stripped of any sexual overtones and used in such compounds as moll-tooler, moll wire or moll whiz, a female pickpocket, square moll, an honest woman and moll-buzzer, a street thief specialising in purse-snatching.

 

The Roaring Girle, was not Frith’s only on-stage representation. Later in 1611 Nathan Field staged his play Amends for Ladies. It was, as the title suggests, a response to the Middleton/Dekker play, and Moll appears in a much less kindly light. Nor does she play a central role, offering merely a cameo which may be seen as Field’s attempt to profit from The Roaring Girl’s success. Compared with the leading female roles, the Widow, the Wife and the Maid, and the story of their relations with their lovers, Moll’s subversive, transgressive personality, its parading of the sins of thieving and lust, has been clearly introduced only for vilification. Such subversive attitudes must be punished and Moll is duly pilloried as an emblem of everything seen as wrong with the over-independent female.

 

In 1614 Frith married one Lewknor Markham, probably son of the author Gervase Markham (apostrophised as ‘the earliest English hackney writer’). As one might expect, she kept her maiden name and the marriage did not last. She established a fencing school, but this was probably a front and perhaps ‘fencing’ (the underworld use of word was first recorded in her lifetime) was a pun. In 1624 she was summoned before the Star Chamber: her crime an unpaid bill, but the evidence focussed on her subversiveness.  In 1644 she was listed among those recently discharged from Bethlem Hospital, better known as ‘Bedlam’; it appeared that at least for a while she had been considered mad. She died on July 26 1659.

 

A biography appeared three years later. As the ODNB notes, it managed to muddle virtually every known fact. But by then the facts were academic. Moll Cutpurse, the embodiment of so many transgressions, had been taken up for moralising and myth.