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Chambers Slang Dictionary

Jonathon Green’s name is familiar to every student of slang in the UK: he has been researching it for 25 years and is an authority on this most intriguing and intractable aspect of lexicography.

The cover of the Chambers Dictionary of Slang

The title makes it seem as though this is an entirely new book but in essence it is the third edition of the Cassell Dictionary of Slang. The change of publisher and the new edition have resulted in subtle changes in layout and content. Most significantly, entries have been presented in a different way — all the derivatives of a word are now placed together as sub-entries of the main word, rather than as individual entries. This technique, called nesting in the business, may seem a small change, even perhaps a fussy one, but it simplifies entries and highlights the relationships between terms. The opportunity has been taken to add items of recent slang, to rewrite definitions and improve the dating. To my eye — though this is a subjective view — the text is clearer and easier to read.

Slang being the seamy underside of language, you shouldn’t expect a positive view of life to emerge from its pages. Jonathon Green has computed (using his huge database of material that has since generated his magnum opus, the Oxford English Dictionary of slang) that among this book’s 85,000 words and phrases from the English-speaking world are 5,012 entries for crime and criminals, 4,589 for intoxicating liquor and its effects (with 3,976 more about drugs), 3,343 for money, 1,365 for penis, (and 1,131 for vagina), 1,740 for sexual intercourse, 945 for masturbation, 831 for death and dying and 219 for vomiting, but sweet FA (British slang, an abbreviation for sweet fuck-all) for anything caring, sharing or compassionate.

[Jonathon Green, Chambers Slang Dictionary, published by Chambers Harrap in October 2008; hardback, pp1477; ISBN-13: 978-0550-10439-7, ISBN-10: 0550104399, publisher's list price £30.00. US publication follows in 2009; meanwhile, American readers can obtain copies from Amazon Canada or UK or direct from the UK publishers.]

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Page created 01 Nov 2008; Last updated 04 Dec 2010