It bristles with humor, vituperation, prejudice, informality: the slang of English is English with its sleeves rolled up, its shirt-tails dangling, and its shoes covered with mud. This dictionary presents a panoramic view of twentieth-century English slang – from Britain, North America, Australia, and elsewhere in the English-speaking world – from World War I until the present day.
or profession”: printers’ slang, costermongers’ slang, even the slang vocabulary of doctors and lawyers. Both of these types of slang served many purposes, but the predominant one was as a private vocabulary binding together members of a subculture or social group, conferring upon them an individuality distinct from the rest of the community. Finally, in the early years of the nineteenth century, the term “slang” came to be applied much more generally to any “language of a highly colloquial type, considered as below the level of standard educated speech, and consisting either of new words or of current words employed in some special new sense”. Today slang covers all three of these areas: not all colloquial or informal vocabulary is slang, but all slang is colloquial or informal.
but which have not yet been published there.
for example, was the normal word for “buttocks” in the Old and Middle English period; only thereafter did it begin to be perceived as “rude”, and slip into that area of the language regarded as “slang”.
supply approximate dates at which a word or sense is thought to have come into use. Such a system is perfectly, but suffers in turn from the charge of subjectivity: it is likely that some dates are too cautious and others too adventurous. In choosing to supply the earliest dates available to us from the printed record, we hope that the dictionary represents a checklist of what is actually known for certain about each slang term, and also that readers who come across earlier attestations – which do in many cases certainly exist – will alert us to them so that we will be able to correct this aspect of the heritage of English in subsequent editions. As well as this, we should be delighted to receive notification (particularly from published sources) of items which have not been included in the present edition, but which might merit inclusion at a later date.
of the term in the relevant sense, regardless of its level of usage.
has been that however regrettable this aspect of English may be, its inclusion in a dictionary of slang does not sanction its use, but simply records the facts as far as they are available.
Many entries also contain labels indication the region, social group, or discipline within which a word is prevalent. It is therefore possible to trace a word’s development from, say, the slang of service personnel in World War I, through changes of meaning as it was taken up in North America or Australia, to a modern sense restricted to the vocabulary of a particular “calling or profession”. The genealogy of slang presented in this way often reveals a surprisingly tortuous and humorous or idiosyncratic development.
Derivations or etymologies are not supplied when they are self-evident. On the other hand, popular misconceptions are typically alluded to, if only to be dismissed. Similarly, pronunciations are given (in the international Phonetic Alphabet) only in cases of ambiguity or other difficulty.