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The world's foremost lexicographer of slang reflects on the how, why and what of his singular job

For thirty years Jonathon Green has been collecting slang – the indefinable language of the gutter, the brothel, the jail, the barroom – producing a succession of dictionaries, most recently the three-volume Green's Dictionary of Slang, that have been recognised as the most comprehensive and authoritative ever compiled. In this fascinating memoir Green reveals that he first began collecting slang in the 1970s, noticing that the contemporary authorities (notably Eric Partridge) preferred the past to the present, unaware of the huge array of new slang being coined by the counter-culture. He ponders why he still does this strange, lonely job, exploring the satisfaction that can be gained by tracking down the first use of a term just encountered in one of the cheap dime novels he devours for research. The lexis leans towards pimping and prostitution, crime and imprisonment, violence and cruelty, drunken and drugged debauches: what does this say about the man who spends every day truffling for it?

A fascinating look at how one man has built a lexis of 125,000 words that includes 1,740 words for sexual intercourse, 1,351 for the penis, 540 for defecation/urination, 247 for fat, 219 for vomiting and 180 for anal sex, Odd Job Man will delight all those who love the words that the conventional dictionaries leave out.

Reviews

In his relentless campaign to drag slang out of the sewer and brothel, and into the drawing-room and academy, Green has no rival. He is the Dr Johnson of slang, its Putin, its Mr Toad, its Dickens.

Nicholas Shakespeare, Sunday Telegraph

[Green's] kaleidoscopic memoir charting three decades exploring our mother tongue's more exotic margins is vigorous, gonzoid, learned and entertaining.

David Profumo, Literary Review

This memoir of a life spent exploring the grubby margins of the English language reveals plenty about both that language and Green himself.

Spectator

[A] rollicking memoir.

Iain Finlayson, Saga

Unusual… Moving… Magnificent.

Sam Leith, Guardian

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Formats & editions

  • EBook

    9781448192410

    April 3, 2014

    Vintage Digital

    336 pages

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