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Hatchet Jobs and Hardball: The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang Hardcover – September 10, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Not sure who started starve the beast economics, or where the term big cheese came from, or what a Repubocrat is? Not to worry; Barrett’s savvy guide to political lingo breaks down all the terms anyone could need to understand the D.C. chatterati. Starting with a short introduction by James Carville and Mary Matalin that explains how Washington’s "political Esperanto" evolved from the city’s diverse regional loyalties and its "altered perception of reality," the volume defines more than 600 slang words. And though the definitions are clear and easy to understand, the real fun lies in the historical citations, which refer to films and books as often as to newspapers and congressional reports. The citation for juice ("personal or political power or influence, often of a corrupt nature"), for example, contains a quotation from the 1963 JFK biopic PT 109, and the first citation for zoo plane ("an airplane carrying journalists accompanying a traveling politician") comes from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear & Loathing Campaign Trail. Funny and useful, this book makes a good choice for word-lovers and watchdogs alike.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The range of this delightful little dictionary is defined as "250 years of lively discourse," but most of the liveliness is of recent occurrence, with the entries being drawn primarily from the 1980s and 1990s, if not from the past two or three years. Even for words like mugwump (first example 1884) and snollygoster (1846), the editor has found more or less current instances of use.

Each entry contains part of speech, definition, and citations from a range of sources. Other elements that may be included are an etymology, a field label identifying the group or subculture that generally uses the term (for example, Mil. for military), variant forms, usage labels, cross-references, and notes. Much of the slang recorded here is indeed lively and clever. A prepared response to an opponent's anticipated assertion is a prebuttle. A red-headed Eskimo is a bill so precisely targeted that it might benefit only one specific person. A twinkie is someone or something that is appealing but lacking in substance. Velcroid applies to a person who seeks to advance by associating with a more important person. A clothespin vote is one that is cast unenthusiastically for a choice regarded as least objectionable. The idea is "that voters must use a clothespin to protect their noses from the supposed stench of such candidates."

By no means the least interesting part of the dictionary is the series of eight brief essays on topics (such as chads and the -gate suffix) about which Barrett felt compelled to comment at somewhat greater length than his definitions, notes, and etymologies permitted. This is a book to be read and enjoyed, not merely to be taken down from the shelf now and then and briefly consulted, and it is recommended for public and academic libraries. Harold Cordry
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1St Edition edition (September 10, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195176855
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195176858
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.2 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,100,082 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am an American lexicographer and editor of The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English (May 2006, McGraw-Hill) and the online, award-winning Double-Tongued Dictionary. I am also co-host of the language-related public radio show A Way With Words, broadcast nationwide via radio, streaming, and podcast. I also serve as vice president for communications and technology for the American Dialect Society, an academic organization that has been devoted to the study of English in North America for more than 118 years. Formerly, I worked as lexicographer for Oxford University Press in New York City, for which I served as project editor of the Historical Dictionary of American Slang and edited the Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang (2004). I am currently part of a team working on a series of bilingual learner's dictionaries for Cengage (formerly Thomson Heinle) using Collins content and brand, I continue ongoing work with Cambridge University press for their Cambridge Dictionary of American English and Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary, I will soon begin a project with Oxford University Press for their joint US-UK dictionary database (as well as contributing slang entries to their next version of the New Oxford American Dictionary). On occasion, I contribute to the journal American Speech and write for newspapers such as the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Malaysian Star.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. Kolowrat on September 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I was given this book as a gift, and was a little shocked - as I love words, but I am not necessarily very politically minded...although I am trying - and I found this book to be truly enjoyable! I can use it when I try to seem "up" on politics and people are impressed! I have enjoyed reading the stories of where and when the terms started to come into use, and it's all thoughtful and well written!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Not real name on September 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I really don't like political slang basically because I never know what the hell people from the "beltway" are talking about on the news. I finally have a resource that will tell me what one of those cloistered freaks taking charge of my government are talking about.
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Format: Hardcover
Grant Barrett's HATCHET JOBS AND HARDBALL is the best political language book available anywhere.

I must admit that I know Barrett, and some of my work can be found here as the earliest citations for "beep" and "John Q. Public" and more.

With respect to the "Windy City" comments below, this is not a book of regional political slang. There are many thousands of short-lived, localized political words and phrases and nicknames. To record them all would be exhausting, probably impossible and probably pointless. This is a national book, intended for a modern audience.

Barrett has used the latest word-searching technology (Pro Quest Historical Newspapers and NewspaperArchive, for example) that has been available only in the past year. The book's citations are exhaustive and up-to-date, the best that can be found.

The book is clearly laid out and easy to flip through. It does what it promises to do, and for that receives four stars.

Only a "piebiter" could ask for more. Look it up!
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Daily Fog on March 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book was given to me while I was leaving D.C. Feeling defeated and confused in how to handle my American clients, much like the feelings I have in London dealing with my teenage kids, I opened the book and surprisingly the book helped open my eyes.

Treating this dictionary more like a book on the history of Americas adopted language...Helped intrigued me more by illustrating clearly a comedy, a weakness, and a immaturity the states exhibit with brut force. The book didn't help solve my problem, but did give me a sense of enlightenment and understanding on how to handle my American clients next time. Much like my teenagers, I will show them unconditional love, but I'll have to wait until they grow up to give them more responsibilities.

Nothing more appealing then the words "Oxford", "American", and "Slang" for the cover. For me, the title "Hatchet Jobs And Hardball" is awful and misleading.
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