Saturday, 1 January 2005

A Dictionary of Slang

What riches are here!

The sub-title of the 1400-page reference book originally compiled by the great Eric Partridge, published in 1937 and now in an eighth edition scrupulously edited by Paul Beale is “…and Unconventional English, Colloquialisms and Catch Phrases, Fossilised Jokes and Puns, General Nicknames, Vulgarisms and such Americanisms as have been naturalised”.

Then there are the appendices, which include Australian surfing slang, Army slang in the South African War, Railwaymen’s slang and nicknames, Clergymen’s diction in the Church of England, Spanglish, Canadian adolescents’ slang 1946 and around ninety other recondite and fascinating topics.

The details under these headings could provide material for weekly posts throughout 2005, but for the moment I will just mention one thing that has struck me while glancing idly at random entries in the body of the dictionary: some of the words or phrases which sound as if they mean something improper are in fact quite innocent, while some respectable-sounding ones would seldom be used in polite society. Examples of the former are toss in the alley (to die), null-groper (a street-sweeper) and prick-louse (a tailor). And of the latter nugging-dress, number nip, and nurtle (buy the book and look them up; they are all on the same page).

1 comment:

George Corrigan said...

I am sure this book is fabulous and assuming I make it onto the Nice list next year I will be sure to ask Santa for a copy. In the meanwhile I can swear by the following tomes that proudly sit on my bookshelf and come heartily recommended.
1) Bartletts Familiar Quotations, most of which aren't that familiar at all which makes the whole endeavor much more worthwhile
2) Bartletts Book of Anecdotes. A bit like asking Parkinson to come over for dinner, except it doesn't get drunk and pinch your wife’s bottom. And it knows a lot more people. Highly recommended unless you are trying to get rid of your wife.
3) I have two slang dictionaries, which is clearly nothing to boast of, just a way to doubly identify my ignorance. Chapman's Dictionary of American Slang (3rd ed) and NTC Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial expression. Some phrases are in both e.g. Horse Cock, but the synonym Donkey Dick is only found in Chapman (which must be quite uncomfortable I would imagine) The NTC takes the high ground and points out that Horse Cock is USUALLY objectionable but unfortunately doesn't elaborate in which social setting one might mention it without raising at least an eyebrow - perhaps in the court of Russia's Catherine the Great? Anyway, both books are good.
4) Other references I dip into for enjoyment include Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and
5) the Viking book of Aphorisms, where one can curse how witty those who went before us were.
All first rate reads and hours of entertainment.
6) The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols is somewhat less of a rollicking read, but enlightening none the less. For example did you know camels symbolize sobriety? That seems strange given how much they drink, but then camels also symbolize a prickly nature, and I know from personal experience that sobriety and testiness often come hand in hand, so perhaps there is some truth to the matter.
Anyway, may your 2005 be far from the camels, and in the words of Van Doren "wit is the only wall between us and the dark". Thanks for being a beacon Tony!