BY LARRY BELLING
Of all the heavy word hitters, Slang is the tool that can put you in touch with your audience fastest. As Carl Sandburg wrote, slang is "a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work."
The problem for writers is that erstwhile slang dictionaries don't provide a depth of choice but only a list of slang words and their meanings and etymologies. Eric Partridge's "Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English" will tell you that the word 'grub' has been used for food as early as 1659. But he doesn't suggest alternatives such as belly timber, choff, chow, chuck, eats, feed, fixin's, fodder, fuel, grease, grindage, groceries, hash, munga, nosh, peck, scoff, scran, tack, tuck or tucker.
The most colorful language we possess is slang. Often it is onomatopoeic (words that sound like their meanings - boom, cuckoo, splash, snot, ping-pong, zigzag, etc.) It often is humorous, sometimes hilarious. The Australians have a slang word for brassiere. They call it a 'sheepdog.' Why? Because it rounds 'em up and points 'em in the right direction.
When does one use slang in writing? Basically, whenever you encounter words that seem cliché or boring or dull and need juicing up. Use slang when you want to shock. Use it to bring color to your sentences. Use it to be funny. Use it to peak your reader's interest.
We have included slang from a number of countries and ethnicities including Australian, Cockney-rhyming, black, Yiddish, surfer, skateboarding, gang-speak, gay, and some West Indian. We also have a few words of Boontling, a lingo spoken in Boonville, Northern California originating around the 1880s. Over 200 men in this small community speak Boontling. Curiously enough, none of the women do. If you're unhappy with your job you might tell your boss, "Butterfly your mossy. I'm goin' hornin' and burlappin' until I’m completely ose-draggy."
Naturally, a lot of slang is about subjects seldom discussed in polite society, and we must warn that our collection has not (cliché alert) beaten about the bush patrol. We have not edited bodily functions, bodily parts and emissions, profanity, sexual acts, drugs, homosexuality and lesbianism, prostitution, criminality, race, and blasphemy. It is simply impossible to compile a slang thesaurus which does not include these areas of language. We cannot be responsible if children or sensitive adults attempt to view this resource.
A small word of warning. It can be a little dangerous to choose slang words willy-nilly. Expressions can pass in and out of fashion in the twinkling of a double-entendre. Whereas the Jewish expressions have come down through the ages and seldom change, black slang is ephemeral and differs so radically by geography and class that it would be impossible for any thesaurus to stay completely up-to-date.
We would be most grateful if you would keep a lookout for omissions in this collection. We would be thrilled to hear your observations about which slang words are unhip or archaic. If certain expressions began at a particular time and place, it would a useful addition to this collection to add that information. All contributions will be credited.
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