Finding the #Write #Words? No.3 A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English

Continuing the description of books on the list given in post 1, which you’ll find here. Post 2 is here.

Book 2: A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, by Eric Partridge.

On with the info.

Hardback, 1,400 pages, approximately 61,600 word definitions (a guestimate). It was published by Routledge & Kegan Paul in 1984. Original cost approximately £47.50. This edition is no longer printed, but it is available as a used edition, from around £14.00, should you want a copy.

Listing: Colloquialisms and Catch Phrases, Fossilised Jokes and Puns, General Nicknames, Vulgarisms and such Americanisms as have been naturalised. And with nearly 90 appendices listing terms from Army slang in the South African War, through Cockney speech, Fops and gallants, School slang in 1968, to Women in C.18 slang.

I bought this tome in the hope of understanding how certain words became considered as slang, offensive, or simply curiosities. Although published as a revised edition in 1984, the language and tone of the text seems very much in the spirit of the 1st edition, published in 1937. There’s an underlying tone of disapproval in many of the explanations of the words described. Difficult for younger readers to appreciate how much attitudes to expletives, swear words and curses have changed in C.21. Much of that change is for the better, I think. Though it’s often the case that older people can be confused about what is now considered the ‘correct’ or ‘acceptable’ term for many words that were once in common usage. ‘Fuck’ is now ubiquitous, and that awful term for the female pudenda, ‘cunt’ seems more and more in common use, though retains its offensive status with many people (including me). My elderly father was in the habit of using ‘nigger’ as a descriptor for one of his best friends, a tall, handsome man of colour from Jamaica; that his friend laughed heartily at this is an indication of how its use has altered over the decades.

Here are some samples from the learned text:

Chopped hay: Knowledge imperfectly assimilated: coll: – 1923 (Manchon). Ex the stables.

Jolly well: An intensive adverb: middle-class coll(oquial): apparently since the 1880s. (The OED cites Rudyard Kipling. 1898.) It occurs, always with a verb, as in “Sorry!” – “You jolly well ought to be!” and “You’ll jolly well go there yourself, and not ask someone else to go.” In later C.20 sometimes as jollywell; cf. bloodywell.

Testiculating: adj. and vbl n. ‘Defined to me in 1972 as “Waving one’s arms about and talking a lot of balls.”’ (P.B. 1974) Blending testicles and gesticulate. Cf. my adjectival neologism (latish 1975): totitesticular, ‘all balls’ or ‘utter nonsense’ and ‘notably virile’.

This book is decidedly dated, and of interest mainly for academics studying language and word lovers who enjoy novelty. I rarely consult it now.

I recently (20th November 2019!) discovered it’s been re-issued as The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English) on 31st August 2012. However, in spite of the addition of over 1000 new entries, and some updating of the content, I’m unlikely to invest in this paperback edition priced at £249.43 at the time of writing.

Students learning the English language will find a useful site for help with pronunciation here. And there’s a supportive group on Facebook, which you can access here.