- Green's Dictionary of Slang Online by Jonathon Green
The promotional weight of dictionaries is not mentioned quite so often as it once was, but at one point pounds and kilos were a minor selling point, offered (along with sundry other statistics such as dollars spent and pages created) as evidence either of a dictionary's intellectual heft or of its usability. An advertisement for the India-paper edition of Merriam-Webster's New International Dictionary, found in The Independent in 1915, boasts that the volume "Weighs only 7 lbs" ("half as heavy as the Regular Edition"). On the other end of the scale, an 1897 advertisement for Robert Hunter's The New Encyclopædic Dictionary found in the Boston Congregationalist crows that its "four massive volumes" weigh "about 40 pounds" (which, unless they are factoring in the bookcase seen in the advertisement, is a bald-faced lie; the 1898 edition on my shelves weighs a mere 24 pounds). Without stooping to making it a selling point, The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) informs the interested reader that its second edition inflicted 137.72 pounds on whichever scale was unlucky enough to serve as judge. Whether such data swayed potential buyers appears to have been questionable enough that one now rarely, if ever, is aware of how much any particular reference work weighs.
"They are manageable on a desk, but unwieldy on a lap" was how Michael Adams assessed the poundage of the three volumes of Green's Dictionary of Slang (GDoS) in his 2012 review in this journal (Adams 2012, 209). Adams applied such descriptors as "essential," "a treasure house of language," "a very significant dictionary," and "a profound work of philology." No mention is made, nor needed, about the work's physical weight. And if it was unnecessary to account for this dimension in [End Page 227] that review, it is entirely unnecessary to account for it now, as GDoS has gone incorporeal.
Green's Dictionary of Slang Online (GDoSO) is the web presence of Jonathon Green's massive historical slang dictionary, published in print format in 2010 by Chambers in the United Kingdom and in 2011 by Oxford University Press in the United States. The site was developed by David Kendal, who offered his services to Green (via a tweet) initially on a pro bono basis (Green & Kendal 2017). GDoSO is an independent venture that lacks the benefit of corporate or academic support. It is also a stunning piece of work.
Given that the scope, triumphs, and problems of the print edition of this work were examined in detail by Adams in the aforementioned review, I will largely abstain from revisiting the issues he so ably covered, instead focusing on the digital aspects of this dictionary. I strongly suggest reading Adams's 2012 review in full, as it is as fine and as trenchant an analysis as one could hope for.
With a few notable exceptions reference works have failed to take advantage of the possibilities afforded by digital publishing, and instead treat e-books and websites merely as very good ways of fitting very large books into very small spaces. Perhaps foremost among the exceptions is the third edition of the OED; that dictionary has been appearing online, with quarterly updates added to the complete second edition (1989), since 2000. The OED Online is a delight for the casual browser and the researcher alike: its advanced search function allows, for instance, instant discovery of all the adjectives labeled as "slang" or "colloquial" for which Jane Austen provided the earliest known use (itty and tittupy). The OED Online's enormous bibliography is linked to the dictionary, so if one wishes to find every citation it has by Thomas Urquhart (1,505 of them, at the time of this writing) one can do so with a minimum of fuss.
When the print version of GDoS was published, a number of reviewers compared it favorably with the OED Online. These comparisons were based largely on the shared ambition (grand) and nature (historical) of the two works. With GDoSO...