Slang — language at our most human

Mark Peters in the Boston Globe:

ScreenHunter_2408 Nov. 29 20.40Slang is probably as old as human language, though the first slang dictionaries only started popping up in the 16th century. But nothing has been a boon for slang lexicography like the digital age, as the searchability of newspaper databases has allowed the past to be explored like never before.

For fans of English at its rawest, the recent arrival of the online version of Green’s Dictionary of Slang is a major event. It’s also a reminder that slang — for all its sleaze and attitude — is just as susceptible to careful research as anything else.

British lexicographer and author Jonathan Green’s GDoS is the largest slang dictionary in the world, collecting terms from the United States, England, Australia, and everywhere else English is the dominant language. GDoS, like the Oxford English Dictionary, is a historical dictionary. This type of dictionary provides a lot more than definitions, etymology, and pronunciation notes: Historical dictionaries trace the evolution of terms over time. Since the best fossil evidence of word change is quotations, historical dictionaries are full of them, allowing readers to see how words function in the wild. A regular dictionary is a little like snapshots taken of zoo animals. A historical dictionary is more like footage from a hidden camera in the jungle or ocean.

This example-based approach is also the opposite of user-generated dictionaries such as Urban Dictionary. All major dictionaries crowdsource. But when there’s no editing or fact-checking, you get an entertaining product that’s far from a reliable source on what words are actually being used.

More here.

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