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  • Green's Dictionary of Slang
  • Michael Adams (bio)
Green, Jonathon . Green's Dictionary of Slang. London: Chambers, 2010. Pp. xxxvi + 6085 3 volumes. $625.00. ISBN 978-0550-10440-3

Speakers of English are endlessly inventive, and it's hard to keep up with their slang, although we encounter it everywhere, not least in artifacts of popular culture. A film like the teen horror comedy Jennifer's Body (2009) is chock full of it; familiar items abound, but there are also some you won't find in dictionaries, for instance, backdoor virgin 'person who has never had anal sex', Chester 'child molester', dillhole 'asshat', faygo 'gay male', gaylord 'gay male', gummer 'hick', jello 'jealous', salty 'attractive, awesome', and wettie 'vaginal secretion due to sexual excitement'. Well, actually, one of these, Chester, is almost in all three of the big slang dictionaries: Green's Dictionary of Slang (2010; henceforth GDoS); Jonathan Lighter's Historical Dictionary of American Slang (Lighter 1994- , two volumes to date, covering A-O; henceforth HDAS); and Tom Dalzell and Terry Victor's New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (Dalzell and Victor 2006; henceforth NP). This last doesn't enter Chester, but it does have the related form, Chester the Molester, with a single quotation.

Chester is great slang, casually slung at the outset of the film by its antihero, Anita "Needy" Lisnicki, as she describes what she has to put up with in the prison for the criminally insane where she lives. But it's not really a casual word, which makes it daring and rebellious in casual contexts, and use of it indicates how rough the once sweet Needy has become by this flash forward. Chester is clipped from Chester the Molester, the title of a cartoon named for its central character, who molests girls and preys sexually on adult women, too. The author of the cartoon, which ran in the porn magazine Hustler for thirteen years, was Dwaine Tinsley (not "Dwayne," as the etymology in GDoS has it), who was—I'm not making this up—convicted of sexually abusing his daughter, although the conviction was eventually overturned. In the meantime, he continued to contribute the cartoon from his prison cell. Calling perverts Chesters makes wicked fun out of this sordid story and spins rotting cultural straw into golden verbal style. [End Page 208]

GDoS does reasonably well by the Jennifer's Body test, compared to the other two dictionaries: it also includes dillhole and gaylord, and it has jel 'jealous', so is one step closer to jello than HDAS or NP. The latter enters gaylord, but none of the three includes backdoor virgin, faygo, gummer, salty, or wettie. To be fair, the volume of HDAS that would include salty and wettie hasn't been published yet. And, to be even fairer, given their publication dates, none of the dictionaries could have gleaned the items from Jennifer's Body—GDoS must have been in production by the time the film was released in late 2009. But salty had been around long enough for us to say that GDoS "missed" it: Urban Dictionary includes posts recording the sense in question from 2004, 2005 (twice), 2006, 2007 (twice), and 2008. We can push the date back a bit more, because it's this salty Cordelia Chase has in mind when she says, "Hello, salty goodness!" in "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date" (March 31, 1997), an episode of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It's too easy to point out what words aren't in a big dictionary of slang, because even the biggest can't be complete. A print dictionary will have missed material in the course of editing and production—as the case of salty indicates, perhaps as much as a decade's worth of slang. And then, once the dictionary is published, slang moves on. The work of recording the vocabulary of a living language is never done. GDoS includes quotations as recent as 2008, usually in entries for words with long histories. Focused on such entries, as one will be in making a historical dictionary of English slang, intent on bringing the historical record up...


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