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Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang

Ayto, John; Simpson, John
Publisher:  Oxford University Press
Year Published:  2005   First Published:  1992
Pages:  324pp   Price:  $22.95   ISBN:  0-19-861052-1

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Ayto has created dictionaries before, notably the wonderful Food and Drink Dictionary. This book was first published in 1992, and here it is revised and updated. There are 5000 slang words and phrases here, words commonly found in the UK, North America, Australia, and other parts of the English-speaking world.

The compilers identify three types of slang: low life; professional arcane; and highly colloquial. Most of the slang in this book has been derived from the Oxford English Dictionary. The work contains the slang of the twentieth century, although the authors say that some minor terms have been dropped, plus 500 others currently in preparation for the OED but not yet published there. This then becomes an exciting preview, since that means 10% of the book has not yet appeared in Oxford dictionaries.

Some changes in approaches to words are also indicated. For example, the word "flapper" began as a late 19th century slang term for an unconventional woman. Now, it apparently means a young woman of the 1920s, and it is no longer considered slang. These can be tough calls to make when the limit of the book is only 5000 words.

For each entry there is a definition, an account of the origins, the date and first use in print, and a use example. The range is from "abaht" (UK, British dialect for "about") to "zowie" (US, astonishment). There is also some UK rhyming slang here, but that needs to be approached with caution since there are so many rhymes that pertain to the UK only and are totally lost on the rest of the world - where does one cut it off?

Audience or interest level: word hounds, reference libraries.

Some interesting facts: "The vocabulary of slang changes rapidly: what's new and exciting for one generation is old-fashioned for the rest".

What I don't like about this resource: the slang term "sweet F.A" here means "nothing at all", and the "F.A." is indicated as meaning "Fanny Adams", a reference to doing nothing. I always thought that "sweet F.A." was actually "SFA" and meant "sweet fuck all". And to find THAT reference, you've got to look up "Fanny Adams" under "F" to find a "sweet fuck all".

What I do like about this resource: well, there's no use of Google or any other search engine to find slang on the Internet, so that makes it easier to freeze-frame the inventory of words. The book is a great read for bedtime. Or the john.

[Review by Dean Tudor]

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