Welcome to the Internet, Green’s Dictionary of Slang!

Jonathon-Green-011

We’re very happy to present this guest post by Jonathan Green, the Green behind Green’s Dictionary of Slang, which launches today online!

The road to Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online

‘We do not,’ announced my new publisher at our first meeting, ‘want to do this book.’ This is not, as one nears the end of seventeen years of research on a project that has not simply taken over one’s life but pretty much come to represent it, what one wishes to hear. I did not, however, wholly blame them. Those same 17 years had seen a vast change in their industry. The commissioning publisher no longer existed, that which followed had announced, at around year twelve ‘well, we’ll publish it if we have to’, and a successor had been consigned to the scrapheap a few months before. Ironically, the new uber-company, a global name, had already thrown me out once, before finding themselves in charge once more, thanks to a takeover. I had fantasies of meetings in some distant office: ‘No, not that bloody slang dictionary again…’

So I was not surprised. The new imprint had no experience of this variety of reference, the book – many pages, lengthy editing, the complex typography that informs any dictionary – would be expensive. The twin gods of profit and loss were unhappy. But their bosses had placed a gun at their head, and they in turn placed one at mine. We will publish, they continued, but despite your contract, we will not produce the on-line edition that had been part of that contract. Take it or leave it.

In 1998, when I signed the contract for Green’s Dictionary of Slang (GDoS) as an expansion (there would be citations and doubtless many more entries) to my Cassell Dictionary of Slang, the Internet was up and running. There was something called an ‘e-book’. Its definition was somewhat vague; today’s e-book had yet to take off. The term meant no more than a digital version. I saw an all-singing, all-dancing, ‘live’ edition of the dictionary. The then publishers may have seen something different but we did not discuss it. There was enough to do.

It was this, then, that the new owners rejected. If I still wanted to take the dictionary online, it was up to me.

Take it or leave it? I took it. The book appeared, was kindly reviewed, won a prize, even achieved a reprint. The author Martin Amis, in a footnote, had christened me ‘Mr Slang’. I worked on the brand. Two years on there was a second meeting: do you intend to support my continuing work? Absolutely not. OK: the slang lexicographer is traditionally a soloist. We do not do teams. But we do need help.

There were three avenues to explore. A publisher, an academic institution, a commercial business. I set off looking. The first had been solved. Reference publishing in the UK was vastly reduced. I had already had a long flirtation with the most important of all such companies as a possible backer of the print book. We had danced, ever more intimately, almost to the altar. But their pre-nup proved unsignable. Like Dickens’ Miss Havisham I kept the wedding dress. I wrote to universities, some seemed amenable. Again, there were suitors. The most prestigious seemed very keen. Our first conversation ended ‘We look forward to working together.’ The last, nine months on, admitted ‘We don’t actually know how to do this.’ I know few business people. I called in favors from friends that do. The experience was, let’s say, educative. I would offer my pitch. My host cut invariably to the chase: what’s in it for me? The word ‘monetize’ reared up. I had no useful answer. The concept of patronage, of simply backing something worthwhile, cut no ice. We parted. I envisaged a secretary bringing a restorative drink. The magnate amused. ROFL as the textspeak has it.

I did not give in. The wedding dress grew stained, tattered, the wedding feast crumbled to dust. Backed by my wife, who in a second career has made herself a peerless mistress of cite extraction, I continued to work. This was not noble or otherwise plucked from the self-help manuals: what else was there to do? I research slang much as I breathe. And there was so much on offer. The Internet was a cornucopia of material. If my predecessors had sometimes struggled to find examples of slang in use, my problem was no more than one of choice: where should I go today? Newspaper databases and contemporary journalism, TV and movie scripts, lyrics from every type of popular music, social media… I even read more books, often from newly formed digital archives. Unprecedented, incomparable riches. How could I give up when every day my own database expanded and thus, I hoped, improved?

It is fitting, therefore, that the net would save me. Like many writers looking for exposure, I had signed up for Twitter. In April 2014 a tweet appeared; I had no idea of the poster, I could not resist the content: ‘Do you want to put the dictionary online?’ ‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘Would you like me to do it?’ ‘Yes please. How much?’ ‘Nothing. The work should be there.’ This was a relief: I have no funds and other programmers – I had approached several – had demanded megabucks. We met. The sender was a twenty-year-old programmer, David Kendal. He was impressively knowledgeable, not only of programming but of the possibilities for putting it to lexicographical use. We made a deal. I turned over the data, he set to work. What followed was not always simple nor smooth, but the task advanced. The three volumes of print, much augmented, and with the potential for regular improvement, emerged in digital form.

If the rest is not history, then it is what is launched today. Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online. It is here: https://greensdictofslang.com. Those who wish only for a simple headword plus etymology plus definition may access it for free. Those who wish to see the underlying citations, its heart, must pay a subscription. We have tried to keep it low. There will be regular updates. New research tools will be added. Like the Internet which hosts it, the possibilities are endless.

The Oxford Roald Dahl, an “extra-usual” dictionary: Talking with Dr. Susan Rennie

Dr. Susan Rennie

Early last month, in celebration of what would have been Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, Oxford University Press published the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary. Aimed at young logophiles, the dictionary includes both everyday words and those invented by the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

We had the chance to speak to the compiler of the book, lexicographer Dr. Susan Rennie, and to hear about the process behind putting together such an “extra-usual” dictionary, the excitement of defining some of Dahl’s invented words for the first time, and what Dahl words are the most fun to say.

What’s your favorite Roald Dahl word?

A particular favourite of mine is zozimus. That is what the BFG calls the stuff that dreams are made of, which he whisks with his magical egg-beater. It has a wonderfully mystical sound to it, and it uses Z which is one of Roald Dahl’s favourite letters, as in words like phizz-whizzing, zippfizzing and zoonk.

How did you go about compiling these words?

We began by creating a special database which allowed us to search and analyse all of Roald Dahl’s writings for children. That helped us to identify 393 words that Roald Dahl invented, and to find quotations to show how he used them in his books. It also helped us to find ordinary words, like alarm-clock and glove, which have special significance in his stories.

Throughout the project I also reread Roald Dahl’s books many times to help keep his spirit to the forefront, as we wanted the dictionary to be both authoritative and a little bit mischievous.

Was the process different from a “traditional” dictionary?

This has been a very extra-usual dictionary to work on, because it has involved so much creative thinking and experimentation. It is a rare treat to be able to define a word for the very first time, and I’ve been able to do that for all of Roald Dahl’s invented words, from aerioplane to zozimus. It is also the first dictionary where I have been able to write a definition backwards (in the entry for Esio Trot) and in the form of a limerick (for limerick of course).

What Dahl word do you think everyone should have in their vocabulary?

Biffsquiggled! I use it all the time now as it is so much more expressive than saying “confused” or “puzzled.” Another word that I find myself using is sizzlepan, which is far more fun to say than “frying-pan.” The words redunculous and exunckly are particularly useful for grown-ups as we can get them into all sorts of everyday conversations.

Are there dialect or jargon words that Dahl picked up that you wouldn’t expect in children’s books?

Roald Dahl uses some old-fashioned British slang like blithering, blighter and ruddy. You wouldn’t normally find those words in a children’s dictionary, but they are very much part of Roald Dahl’s world and the dictionary is there to help readers navigate through that.

He also uses some words that children are less familiar with these days, such as breeches (in Matilda) and steeplejack (in James and the Giant Peach), so we explain those too. The word crockadowndilly, which is the BFG’s name for a kind of crocodile, is based on a dialect word daffadowndilly meaning “daffodil.”

The dictionary doesn’t include pronunciations. Are there words where you would have liked to include them? What Dahl word do you think is the most fun to say?

The one word where we do indicate pronunciation is Knid, as Willy Wonka is very clear that the K should be pronounced, as in K’NID. He doesn’t tell us how to pronounce Gnooly (another nasty creature in Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator), or knickle (which is what Gnoolies do to you if they catch you), but I like to think they would both have their first letters pronounced too.

All of Roald Dahl’s invented words are fun to say out loud, which is why children love them, but I think those where he uses an internal rhyme, like Oompa-Loompa and rumpledumpus, or those which are very onomatopoeic, like lickswishy and uckyslush, are especially satisfying.

Are there are any other authors you think should have their own dictionary?

I would love to write a Lewis Carroll dictionary, as he was also very creative with language. Carroll came up with the name portmanteau for a word that combines two other words, and he invented the words chortle and galumph which are now part of everyday language.

Dr. Susan Rennie has worked on many dictionaries for both children and adults, including the Oxford Primary Dictionary, Oxford Primary Thesaurus, Oxford English Thesaurus for Schools and the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. She also writes books in Scots for children, and has translated the first Scots edition of Tintin. She is currently a Lecturer in English Language at the University of Glasgow, where she teaches lexicography and the history of Scots and English.

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The Wordnik 2015 Word Nerd Gift Guide

Is there a logophile on your holiday gift list? Give the best wordy presents ever with our 2015 Word Nerd Gift Guide.

Swag

Everyone loves a Chomsky Party, and even colorless green tea tastes better out of a Chomsky Party mug.

chomskymugIf your loved linguist didn’t choose the wug life, but the wug life chose them, let them show it with wug shirts. You can also help them have less stress in their life with a schwa t-shirt! Or you might want to liven up their vocabulary (terminology, lexicon, or phraseology) with a shirt featuring everyone’s favorite wordy dinosaur, the Thesaurus. thesaurus_1272x920shirt_guys_02

Subscriptions

For lovers of American English, you can’t go wrong with a subscription to the online version of the Dictionary of American Regional Englishand it’s 50% off through January 3rd!

Another gift that keeps giving all year long is a subscription to long-form popular linguistics writing mag SchwaFire: recent articles have covered ASL translation, Yiddish, and “accent tag” videos.

Books

This year was a great one for language books. Some highlights included:

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris

A copy editor who has put in more than three decades at The New Yorker, Norris explains some of the most common problems with spelling, punctuation, and usage, drawing on examples not just from classic literature such as Charles Dickens and Emily Dickinson, but from the likes of The Honeymooners and The Simpsons as well.

From Skedaddle to Selfie: Words of the Generations, by Allan Metcalf

The latest from one of our favorite Chronicle of Higher Education writers and the author of OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word. From bobbysoxing Silents to whatever Gen X’ers, From Skedaddle explores the words that encapsulate and characterize whole generations.

The Art of Language Invention, by David J. Peterson

The creator of Dothraki? A history of constructed languages? ‘Nuff said.

Bullshit: A Lexicon, by Mark Peters

Also known as @wordlust, Peters has long been one of our favorite word nerds. His latest book delves into all the different ways of saying balderdash, hooey, and bunk.

Words

And of course, our favorite gift: giving a favorite word at Wordnik!

Are you a #wordnerd or a #languagegeek?

A very generous donor has given us an omakase word adoption — we can choose any word! So we thought we’d use this to see whether Wordniks are more likely to consider themselves ‘word nerds’ or ‘language geeks’. (We can never decide — some days we’re one, and and some days the other.)

From now until 9:30 AM PDT on June 1, show whether you’re a #wordnerd or a #languagegeek by tweeting about our adopt-a-word fundraiser with either hashtag. We’ll pick one lucky retweeter to be the official adopter-of-record for their term of choice!

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(Not on Twitter? Just leave a comment here or on our Facebook page!)

May the best quirky linguistic subculture win!

Wordnik is becoming a not-for-profit!

Today we’re happy to announce that Wordnik.com, the world’s biggest online dictionary, has started the process of becoming a not-for-profit corporation, with the mission of collecting and sharing data for every word in the English language.

Since 2008, Wordnik has tried to be the place where every word — no matter how rare, weird, new, or ephemeral — could have a home. More than a hundred thousand Wordniks have made Wordnik.com their choice — not just for looking up (several million) words every day, but for creating a community for leaving helpful comments, adding useful tags, and making over forty thousand educational, entertaining, and just plain amazing word lists.

As part of Reverb Technologies, the word graph that we’ve created has shown tremendous commercial value in delivering remarkable insights about content and users.

As part of Wordnik.com, we’ll continue to develop and support the Wordnik API, too — expect some exciting announcements on that front in the next few months. (You can always find information on Reverb’s open-source API description framework at swagger.io.)

Reverb Technologies is continuing (and how!) with its goal of making meaningful connections for readers and publishers. Check out Reverb at helloreverb.com!

We hope you will support us in our mission to share all the words. Please email us at feedback@wordnik.com with any suggestions, questions, or advice!

App-propos: The Reverb App

Almost a year ago, we announced that our company name was changing from “Wordnik Inc” to “Reverb Technologies” … and we promised more news.

Today, we’re very happy to announce the Reverb App — a brand-new discovery reader designed to help you read more about what you like, and find new and interesting content, too.

Given our roots as word-lovers, it’s not surprising that the app opens with a gorgeous Word Wall interface:

We believe that words are a fantastic navigation tool. With our Reverb Word Wall view, we give a great overview of the news landscape, and make it easier to dive deeper with a single tap.

We also use our wordy expertise to help connect readers with content. Our new Reverb app sorts and prioritizes articles into three separate content ‘streams’ that help you effortlessly discover more of what you want to read and less of what you don’t: a ‘me’ stream for personalized interests and stories; a ‘friends’ stream that collects articles shared through social network connections, and a ‘news’ stream that keeps you on top of breaking news from respected news sources from around the world.

The more the app is used, the more personalized it gets, replacing information overload with information satisfaction.

We think our new app creates a beautiful and engaging environment for reading and discovering content. Our goal is that with Reverb, you’ll always find something you didn’t know you wanted to know. It’s available now for iPad (iOS 7) only — download it here for free.