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A slang dictionary is a reference book containing an alphabetical list of slang, vernacular vocabulary not generally acceptable in formal usage, usually including information given for each word, including meaning, pronunciation, and etymology. It can provide definitions on a range of slang from more mundane terms (like "rain check" or "bob and weave") to obscure sexual practices. Such works also can include words and phrases arising from different dialects and argots, which may or may not have passed into more common usage. They can also track the changing meaning of the terms over time and space, as they migrate and mutate. This makes them of interest to a variety of people, from oral historians, to etymologists, to the casual browser.
Famous slang dictionaries
Slang dictionaries have been around hundreds of years. The Canting Academy, or Devil's Cabinet Opened was a 17th-century slang dictionary, written in 1673 by Richard Head, that looked to define Thieves' cant. Another early slang dictionary was Francis Grose's A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, first published in 1785.
In recent years, dictionaries with a more academic focus have tried to bring together etymological studies in an attempt to provide definitive guides to slang while avoiding problems arising from folk etymology and false etymology. The study of slang is now taken seriously by academics, especially lexicographers like the late Eric Partridge, devoting their energies to the field and publishing on it, including producing slang dictionaries.
- Chambers Slang Dictionary (by Jonathon Green, Chambers Harrap Publishers, ISBN 9780550104397), previously Cassell Dictionary of Slang (Cassell Reference, 1998; last edition 2006, ISBN 9780304366361)
- A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (by Eric Partridge and Paul Beale, Routledge, 2002, ISBN 0415291895)
- The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang (by John Ayto and John Simpson, Oxford University Press, 2005, ISBN 0198610521)
There have also been more tongue-in-cheek efforts which tend to focus on the more vulgar slang terms:
- Roger's Profanisaurus Rex: The Ultimate Swearing Dictionary (third edition, Viz, 2005, ISBN 0752228129)
The Urban Dictionary occupies a similar end of the spectrum. While offering definitions for actual terms, it relies on user contributions which can introduce both humour and inaccuracies. It has also recently been published in book form:
- Urban Dictionary: Fularious Street Slang Defined (by Aaron Peckham, Andrews McMeel, 2006, ISBN 0740751433)
- The Shesaurus: Hip Hop Women's Dictionary (by Keshia Kola, Penmar Press Publishing, 2005, ISBN 0615221588)
- British Library Texts in Context: 1785 - Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue
- A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue at Project Gutenberg
- fromoldbooks.org version of the Vulgar Tongue with one page per entry, links to examples and to another canting (thieving) dictionary
- A 1737 dictionary of canting slang produced by Nathan Bailey
- Three Centuries of Canting Songs and Slang Rhyme, edited by John Farmer (1896)
- British Library article on The Canting Academy
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