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Dewdroppers, Waldos, and Slackers
A Decade-by-Decade Guide to the Vanishing Vocabulary of the Twentieth Century

Ostler, Rosemarie
Publisher:  Oxford University Press
Year Published:  2003  
Pages:  239pp   Price:  $41.50   ISBN:  0-19-516146-7

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Ostler is a linguist, a librarian, and a freelance writer in the field of words. The book's subtitle gives its coverage, to word and phrases no longer with us (in the sense that hardly anybody ever uses them anymore and few know their original meanings). Almost 3000 such words are covered here, and they are mainly North American white slang from fads and trends that came out of technology, music, the armed forces, rhymes, and animals. There is neither jargon nor ethnic slang in this book. Quick definitions are given, so there is little etymology. For instance, she says that "groovy" (a word that is also now coming back) originated from "in the groove", but she does not say that "in the groove" is a musical reference to the grooves of a 78-RPM shellac record. "Hubba-hubba" has no reference to the Perry Como monster hit. Some explanations seem incomplete and ask more questions than they answer. For example, for "dime novel" she says that most of them cost only a nickel. So why did the term "dime" get used? Why not "nickel novel" (same beginning consonant, two syllables each, words end in "-l")? No answers#On page 213 she lists some "goodbye" equivalents. And there are some that didn't make this list, although they are in the main body by decade. She uses "toodle-pip" but ignores "toodle-doo" (from her chapter on the 1920s). She uses "see you in the funny papers!" which evolved into "see you at the movies!". She ignores "it's been a slice" (1990s) and "bye-ee" (1970s). She also fails to note when some words come back, such as 1920s' "lounge lizard".

The book is arranged in chronological order. Each chapter covers a decade, although 1900 - 1919 was done in one. The chapters begin with a linguistic, historical and sociological snapshot for the decade. All the words are in the index, in alphabetical order, so you just need to look up a word and then go to the appropriate page to view it in context. There is an extensive bibliography to references. The major source seems to be the journal "American Speech".

Some interesting facts: it is important to note that some words keep coming back to life, with newer meanings.

What I don't like about this resource: she does the 1990s, but this decade is still too close for vanishing words. Also, the word inventory is distinctly American: there are many words and phrases here from the past 50 years that I have never, ever heard of.

What I do like about this resource: Ostler does a good job with a nearly impossible task

Quality-to-Price Ratio: this is an excellent book for journalists-writers, as a source of ideas and as a verification tool. 95.

[Review by Dean Tudor]

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