Writing and Publishing Green's Dictionary of Slang
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Writing and Publishing Green's Dictionary of Slang

This report describes the process of writing, editing, and publishing Green's Dictionary of Slang and its predecessors in both print and online form. This chronology of the dictionary's production begins in the 1980s and continues through several print dictionaries of gradually increasing size, coming to an apex with the publication of the three-volume historical edition in 2010. In 2016 the dictionary was published for the first time in online form, an event that almost never happened, due to legal disputes with the original publisher and difficulties in finding a new partner for the project thereafter. We discuss how these problems were overcome and what our plans for the future of the dictionary are.


Green's Dictionary of Slang (GDoS) is the largest historical dictionary of English slang ever compiled. Originally published in three volumes in 2010, it became available online in October 2016 in its own space on the Web at https://greensdictofslang.com. Its online presence followed six years of protracted bureaucratic and technical nightmares, the partial story of which is told below. First, though, we turn to the story of the dictionary's development. [End Page 82]


The history of English slang dictionaries before GDoS was laid out by Green in his introduction to the original print edition. Since it is now available online at the GDoS site,1 there is no need to repeat it at length. For a history specifically of GDoS, we begin only with its direct predecessor: Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (DSUE), the most famous slang dictionary of the twentieth century. Green's own slang lexicography began around 1980. He had been aware of Partridge's work, notably DSUE and the Dictionary of the Underworld, for many years and had realized that the simple difference in their ages—Partridge born in 1895, Green in 1948—meant that the older man had missed, or chosen to avoid, a good deal of slang's modern essentials. An expert in the slang of two world wars, Partridge did not "get," as it were, the succession of youth cults that followed World War II and the language that came with them, nor that of an increasingly prevalent aspect of the lives of those groups: recreational drugs. As a veteran of the UK "underground press" of the late 1960s, Green was involved closely in such countercultural movements and certainly knew some of what he has termed the "counter-language": slang. As the descendent of Ashkenazi Jews, including a father who still had some knowledge of the Yiddish language, he also noted some obvious Yiddish etymologies unrecognized by Partridge. A small thing, but it spurred him to try his own hand. That he had no formal training in lexicography did not enter his calculations: this would fit a pattern, since no predecessor in the history of slang collection had ever had formal lexicographical training.


The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang

Green's first book about slang, The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (DCS), was published by Pan (later Pan Macmillan) in 1984. It followed a dictionary of "contemporary quotations" for the same publisher. It offered material from 1945 onwards, covered as far as possible the UK, US, and Australia, and gave title references to books in which terms had been found. There was no [End Page 83] attempt at etymology or citations. DCS included around 11,500 terms, and its database, slightly expanded, was used for the Slang Thesaurus (1986) and for Slang Down the Ages (1993). The former is self-explanatory, and the latter attempted to trace the breakdown of slang into certain major themes and to showcase the groups and types of words involved.

Cassell's Dictionary of Slang

In 1993, while Green was preparing the new edition of a book of quotations for the London publisher Cassell, his editor asked him whether he had ever considered preparing a slang dictionary. Green took the opportunity, a dictionary was commissioned, and the single-volume Cassell's Dictionary of Slang (CDS1) appeared in 1998. Green was not allowed to include citations...