Friday, June 21, 2013

The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang

1990, 1991 edition, from Pantheon Books
Tony Thorne
The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang: With More Than 5,000 Racy and Raffish Colloquial Expressions-- from America, Great Britain, Australia, the Caribbean, and Other English-Speaking Places
Bought newish for $15.00
Slightly worn paperback

I found this more entertaining than Bierce's Devil's Dictionary (1911), perhaps because Thorne generally wasn't trying to be funny.  As the subtitle suggests, he doesn't have much here from Canada, but the U.S. is well-represented, if not always accurately reflected.  Americans will shake their heads over, for instance, the definition of "taco" (like in "taco-bender") as "a Mexican fried bread pancake."  On the other hand, Valspeak is captured well.  I was surprised by some of the omissions, like "woody" for an erection, while "woodie" is there for a wood-paneled surfer's car.  And why is there no mention of "wedgies" or similar?  (It can't be on the grounds of taste, since Thorne includes racist slurs, bathroom terms, and sexual expressions.)  Also, there were times when it seemed like Thorne had missed out on an obvious connection, like where he says that "waldo" is American for "wally" (meaning a fool), and doesn't refer to the Where's Wally/Waldo? series, which began in '87.  The relatively small number of tech-influenced terms (like "interfacing" for "communicating or getting on well") can perhaps be excused as not yet having filtered out to British mainstream awareness at that point. 

Still, it's a useful contribution, and as a reflection of its time, as well as a period that goes back to 1950 (and in some cases much earlier), it makes for interesting reading, even now that there are so many online collections of slang.  (In fact, I was able to cite this book on FB just today, due to a friend's confusion over Emma Watson's "quiff.")

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