Whenever I had a query about slang (and I’ve had many), or felt like a random trawl through the underbelly of language (which was often), my first port of call, traditionally, was Chambers Dictionary of Slang by Jonathon Green. I have several slang dictionaries for various countries or lexical domains, but CDoS was the most generally useful. It has since been superseded: instead of CDoS I now turn to GDoS.
Green’s Dictionary of Slang is the culmination of a life’s work for Green. First published in print as a three-volume behemoth in 2010, to awards and rave reviews, it now emerges in digital form with about 30% ‘revised, augmented and generally improved’. I’ve been beta-testing the website and can report it is a beautiful thing, vast and wondrous, filthy and fabulous, endlessly diverting and eye-opening.
GDoS in print was necessarily a snapshot, frozen at one point in time: a huge record of centuries of slang, but unable to keep up with the latest shifts and shimmies of linguistic creativity. Websites too must play catch-up, but they can do it better and much faster. GDoS Online builds on GDoS’s mass of research and adds a ton more, with regular updates scheduled and geographical scope to be continually extended.
If the lexicographer’s problem was once where to look, it is now in assessing at which point one dare stop looking. —Jonathon Green
Like any good monster, GDoS Online just keeps growing:
- 53,000 headwords are now 54,500
- 110,000 slang terms are now 132,000
- 410,000 citations – examples of usage – are now 650,000
- 10,000 entries have been antedated since 2010 (Green: ‘Words are always older than you think’)
Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online can be searched for definitions, first uses, etymologies, parts of speech, authors, titles, usage labels, etc. As the press release puts it: ‘Those who wish to know how many words James Joyce used for sexual intercourse or Charles Dickens for drunk will find their answers. And whether any came from Yiddish.’
Will these treasures be exsie (Aus.), laanie (S.Afr., 1975), higher than a cat’s back (US, 1882)? Negatory! (US military, 1955) There are two levels of access. The basics (headword, definition, etymology) are freely available to the public. The rest (citations, timeline, full search) are for subscribers: initially £49 ($60) a year for single users, £10 ($12.50) for students. Institutional subs are available on enquiry.
So go visit, bookmark, explore, and, if you can, subscribe to Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online.
Related reading: Green has a brief introduction to GDoS Online on the site’s blog, and a post at Wordnik on the project’s fraught history. I’ve reviewed a couple of Green’s books, both terrific: one on his work as a slang lexicographer and one on the history of slang. You might also enjoy his ever-growing set of slang timelines.
[Note: GDoS is also available online from OUP, but this is the print contents only, and requires subscription even for definitions.]