Green’s Dictionary of Slang is the dog’s bollocks

Soon after Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary was published in 1755, so the story goes, he was approached by a pair of prudish readers who commended him for omitting ‘improper’ words. Johnson, according to one account, replied to the women: ‘What! my dears! then you have been looking for them?’

Today you can find improper words in any good dictionary – but only the main set. Fuck is there, but not fuckish, fuckfaced, fuck-nutty, fuck my old boots!, or fuck the dog and sell the pups. You’ll see shit in the usual sources, but good luck finding shit-breath, shit factory, shit-squirting, shit out, or shit on the dining room table.* Regular dictionaries just don’t cover the remarkable range of taboo vocabulary, nor should they.

For this we turn to specialist slang dictionaries. These do not shy from obscenity but embrace it in all its mutable monstrousness (I say this as someone who loves monsters, and mutants). And the best slang dictionary in existence – it defines, expertly, all the phrases above and thousands like them – is Green’s Dictionary of Slang (GDoS). Last year it went online. If that’s news to you, prepare for a treat.

GDoS, created by Jonathon Green, is a giant among dictionaries. It was first published in three print volumes in 2010, to awards and critical acclaim. Since its online launch in 2016 it has gone from strength to strength, with regular updates adding and refining entries and citations. It now defines 133,000 slang words and phrases, supported by 628,000 citations spanning centuries of recorded use.

It’s not just swearwords, of course. Green’s popular timelines of slang trace major themes such as genitalia, alcohol, sex, death, and defecation from the same database that informs the dictionary. Under the last of these we discover that number two dates to at least 1890, and yucky was first used this way in 1982 by Paul Theroux (‘Do you want to do a tinkle or a yucky?’).

Euphemisms, too (Green writes sometimes for Strong Language) get the same robust treatment in the dictionary, while the GDoS blog fleshes out slang’s social history with posts on, for example, Mary Frith, hero of slang, and Anthony Burgess’s lost slang dictionary. Green lives and breathes this stuff, having also written multiple books on the history of slang and related topics.

I mentioned updates to the dictionary. The latest goes live today and adds hundreds more slang terms and thousands of citations. Antedatings include fuck-film (1972), bell-end (1992), b.s. (1879), Aussie kiss (a French kiss but down under, i.e., cunnilingus, 1992), and as fuck (1973). Shag-nasty, a near-poetic insult, has been pushed back almost a century, from 1972 to 1873.

New entries and sub-entries of the strong-language kind include:

bumborass (non-specific intensifier, from bumbo ‘buttocks’, used as adjective, 2013)

craptacular (‘exceptionally mediocre’, 1998)

daughter of joy (‘whore’, 1919)

dog’s bollocks (‘a complete mess’, 1996)

middle piece (‘vagina’, 1839)

what’s-a-name (‘lavatory’, 1850)

Dog’s bollocks is more usually a compliment – see the title of this post – but that’s slang for you: slippery, shifty, badly behaved, and unsuitable for anyone shitting in high grass. Middle piece could also mean the stomach, and what’s-a-name (or what’s its name) could refer to the penis, the vagina (both recorded in Farmer and Henley’s 1896 Vocabula Amatoria), or an unspecified object.

Strong Language readers will appreciate the value of this material and the scholarship behind it. Subscription fees are modest (even more so if you’re a student) and give you access to advanced search tools, full historical citations – these are utterly wonderful – and the vast bibliography of slang sources. Seduce my ancient footwear, indeed.

Click on the image below to visit Green’s Dictionary of Slang – then bookmark it and, if you can, subscribe.

* ‘To become involved in a sexual relationship with a friend or employee.’ US, 2000s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s