Jonathon Green

Kate Lister (historian and curator of the website Whores of Yore) writes in her foreword to Sounds and Furies that language ‘is a powerful agent of social control, and dictates the acceptable, the feminine, and the well behaved’. Slang lexicons have long served to objectify women in all sorts of ways. It is not surprising, she argues, that Green’s Onl ...

Dictionaries of slang have a history as long as that of dictionaries of Standard English, and both kinds of dictionary arose from a similarity of needs. The need for a guide to ‘hard’ words generated the earliest standard dictionaries; the need for a guide to the language of ‘hard cases’ (beggars, thieves, and criminals generally) generated the earliest slang dictionaries. Samuel Johnson produced his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755. In 1785 Francis Grose published A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, a work that includes an array of slang words that would never find a home in Johnson’s lexicographic world. Similarly, when the Oxford English Dictionary project was producing its first fascicles at the end of the nineteenth century, an alternative view of what constitutes the lexicon of English was presented in A. Barrère and C.G. Leland’s A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon and Cant (two volumes, 1889–90) and in J.S. Farmer and W.E. Henley’s Slang and Its Analogues (seven volumes, 1890–1904).

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