"Green's work on the ruder end of the language spectrum feels especially current now that political debates, both home and abroad, have become so soaked in invective"by Sam Leith / November 17, 2016 / Leave a comment
Say what you like about Jonathon Green: the man works his nuts off. He works his ring off. He works like a wop. Any readers who find one or all of the last three epithets offensive might be advised to steer clear of Green’s magnum opus. For he has spent over three decades collecting slang: 30 years at the coalface, by his own confession 24/7/365. And if you think “work like a wop” is offensive, why, there’s plenty more where that came from.
Green’s work on the ruder end of the language spectrum feels especially current now that political debates, both home and abroad, have become so soaked in invective. As he modestly admitted in his memoir two years back, among his upward of 100,000 headwords are 1,351 words for the penis, 1,180 words for the vagina (Donald Trump’s preferred term among them), 1,740 for heterosexual sex alone—and not a single word for love.
The reason I raise his work now is that this linguistic Don Quixote has finally seen his scholarly endeavours—last collected in 2010’s three-volume Green’s Dictionary of Slang—put online, in a searchable and deeply cross-referenced form. You can find it here: greensdictofslang.com. And for the dabbler in filth and obscurity, in lexical surprise and in earthy wit, it’s just irresistible. A whopcacker, in fact.
My favourite part of it might be the “browse” function, in which you can run a horizontal slider across the alphabet from “A” (which can stand for a Model-A Ford and two types of illegal drug) and “aachibombo” (a codfish fritter—“lit ‘codfish-arse’”) to “zug up” (give an unsatisfactory haircut) or “zuke” (to be sick). With just a slight movement of the wrist you can watch the epithets flicker by: “conveyance,” “dinky dau,” “Kofifi,” “medzers,” “satchel-arsed” and “Terry Waite” all offer themselves for inspection at a click. Terry Waite is rhyming slang for “late,” by the way. And just looking that up I discovered that I shouldn’t hope for a “Tetbury portion.”
Part of the pleasure of this resource is the vast and eclectic pool of citations from which he has assembled his dictionary. It draws on everything from Tom Stoppard and JM Synge to the 1980s kids television show The A-Team; from 1648’s anonymous A Brown Dozen of Drunkards to Charles Bukowski and William Gibson. And if you so choose you can search quotes by author—so…