Green’s Dictionary of Slang

Introduction to the Digital Edition

This is the online version of Green’s Dictionary of Slang.

In October 2010 Chambers/Hodder in the UK published my 3-volume, 6,200-page dictionary of five hundred years of worldwide anglophone slang: Green’s Dictionary of Slang (henceforth GDoS). This fully-cited dictionary, compiled ‘on historical principles’, i.e. with illustrative citations, offered some 125,000 slang words and phrases and covered slang from the UK, North America, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa and the Caribbean. The headwords were supported by c. 415,000 citations.

It has been distributed in North America since January 2011 by OUP/US. It received a variety of appreciative reviews and won the ALA’s 2012 Dartmouth Medal for the year’s outstanding English-language reference work.

Language does not reach an end, nor does research. In the years that have followed my investigation into the slang lexis has continued. One moves forward, noting as best one can the latest terms, and at the same time looks backwards, improving our knowledge of slang’s emergence through the ever-increasing number of digital sources, typically the files of digitized newspapers that are now accessible. It is impossible to set a term’s ‘first use’ in stone, but since GDoS appeared in print, the appearance of some 8,500 terms has been revised backwards in time, often substantially. In many cases, the country of origin has also been updated. This too is a continuing process. I am also in the process of reversing a number of excisions that were made necessary by the limits of print. These mainly pertain to geographical spread, and users will now see that many terms existed far more widely across the Anglophone world than had been possible to demonstrate on paper.

The database currently (January 2016) holds 54,110 main headwords which in turn contain 131,000 slang terms, including derivatives, compounds and phrases. Many have multiple senses. These are backed by 550,000 citations. All these figures will be revised upwards as time passes.

I have explained the background both to slang and to this dictionary in the printed Introduction. I have no wish to go back on what I wrote in 2010, nor to second-guess myself. My only major revision, based on the recent work of Prof. Anatoly Liberman, is as regards the possible etymology of the word ‘slang’ itself. Rather than ‘etymology unknown’, it would appear to have traceable antecedents, and this material offers the most likely story as yet put forward. I shall not reiterate it here, but my thoughts on Professor Liberman’s theories can be found in my Slang: A Very Short Introduction.

The practicalities of using GDoS Online will be found at ‘How to Use the Online Green’s Dictionary of Slang’. The underlying principle is simple: making available, via an online website, the levels of information that as the lexicographer I have always had on my own ‘research’ database. This access to information is a given of the Internet; it has long been my hope to extend it to GDoS. I offer the basic information, i.e. the term, its derivation, an approximate chronology and its definition, for free. For those who wish to explore further, the detailed citations are available to subscribers. As research continues, updates will be made available at regular intervals.

A dictionary is never ‘finished’ any more than is the lexis is attempts to represent. Especially with the new potential of a digital format which is unconstrained by space and by publishers’ necessary deadlines. GDoS Online is therefore a project in continual development. As well as the natural expansion of the material on offer, it is our intention to add to the way the information is displayed, both as to quality and quantity.