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.
Print demanded a deadline, and the illusion of a ‘finished’ dictionary. There is no such thing, only an artificial deadline, imposed by a publisher. Every door, as Dr Johnson realised in 1755, simply opens another, and every question answered suggests several more. The language never ends and slang in particular is being constantly re-created. The lexicographer can only chase behind the tide of new discoveries (not just new slang, but new facts about well-established terms too), but if we are doomed to fail, then as Samuel Beckett suggested, we must try at least to ‘fail better’.
A website does not solve these problems, but offers new possibilities, and GDoS Online is intended to be dynamic and to be subject to continuing development.
This will be seen in the regular updates, which will reflect the way the material is developing, and in the appearance of new tools with which it can be interrogated. In the first place users who opt for a subscription will be able to use the search functions to make just the same enquiries as I can on the research database: How many slang words does an author use? How many has he or she used before anyone else did so? How many words are there for a given definition? When does a slang word enter the vocabulary (at least as we know so far)? These and many more.
Additional material aside, perhaps the most obvious change since 2010, other than the simple fact of placing the dictionary online, is the addition of national flags to identify the geographical source of each citation. Print demanded a restriction to one cite, irrespective of source, per decade. This forced me to suppress many examples. That restriction has obviously disappeared. Expanding the geographical spread both by replacing those cites and researching new ones will be an on-going process.
I have written in somewhat greater detail in the ‘introduction’ section of the dictionary itself. I do not wish to repeat myself here. In any case, the best way to introduce the updated dictionary is for users to immerse themselves in it. We make no pretence as to perfection, only to the potential of improvement, and we would of course welcome your comments.