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Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Vol. 1: A-G Hardcover – June 7, 1994


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1080 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Reference; 1st edition (June 7, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394544277
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394544274
  • Product Dimensions: 11.4 x 9 x 2.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #843,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Slang dictionaries abound, but none offers the linguistic depth, historical range, and scholarly verve of the new Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (RHHDAS), principally the work of Lighter (English, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville). The initial volume (A-G) comprises some 10,000 headwords, 20,000 definitions, and 90,000 citations. Volume 2 (H-R) is scheduled for publication in 1996, with Volume 3 (S-Z) to follow in 1997. When completed, the dictionary will provide detailed lexicographic information on all major slang (words and phrases) used in the United States from Colonial times to the present; no effort has been made to cover purely Canadian terms. Because of the nature of slang (nonstandard English), entries include many obscenities-the "F" word alone accounts for a dozen pages-as well as racial epithets and other taboo or potentially offensive language. What sets RHHDAS apart from other slang dictionaries is its systematic historical approach-that is, terms are not only defined but their etymological development is traced chronologically through dated citations. For instance, the entry "ace" as an adjective meaning expert (as in ace reporter) is embellished with 11 citations, the first from Sob Sister (a novel published in 1930) and the last from the TV program 21 Jump Street in 1988. RHHDAS also furnishes an extensive annotated bibliography of other important slang dictionaries, including Wentworth and Flexner's classic Dictionary of American Slang (LJ 8/75), which RHHDAS complements and largely replaces. A bodacious undertaking, Lighter's dictionary represents a major contribution to lexicographic scholarship. It belongs in every serious reference collection. [For another resource on slang, see Esther Lewin and Albert E. Lewin's The Thesaurus of Slang, rev. ed., reviewed above.-Ed.]-Ken Kister, author of "Best Encyclopedias," Tampa, Fla.
--Ken Kister, author of "Best Encyclopedias," Tampa, Fla.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

A fascinating mixture of the clever, the colorful, the crude, and the coarse, this first historical dictionary to be devoted exclusively to American slang has been in progress for more than two decades. Volume 1 of the projected three-volume set covers A-G; volumes 2 (H-R) and 3 (S-Z) are scheduled for publication in 1996 and 1997, respectively. In his excellent 27-page introduction, Lighter, a research associate in the English department of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, traces the historical development of slang in the English language and discusses its sociological and cultural aspects. Following the introduction, Lighter provides a useful, annotated bibliography of significant books and articles dealing with American slang and an admirably thorough guide to the dictionary.

Defining slang as "an informal, nonstandard, nontechnical vocabulary composed chiefly of novel-sounding synonyms for standard words and phrases," Lighter notes that his intent in this compilation is to treat words and phrases that can be considered American slang, either presently or in the past. Therefore, some of the entries are for terms now considered colloquial or even Standard English (e.g., bamboozle, cliffhanger, dandy, flapper, fluke), but which were at one time viewed as slang. Other entries range from informal, inoffensive words and phrases that make our language more lively and interesting (e.g., can of worms, circular file, foodaholic, goof off, grungy) to terms that are generally considered offensive or vulgar, such as racial and ethnic epithets and expressions pertaining to sexual relations and body functions.

Entry headwords are arranged letter by letter (e.g., bassackwards precedes bass fiddle), with phrases usually appearing within the entry for the main word of the phrase. Abbreviated field labels indicating that a particular group of people uses the word (e.g., military, underground) precede the definition when appropriate. Usage and status labels are used to indicate other aspects of a term, for instance, whether it is usually considered vulgar or offensive or whether it is generally used jocularly or derisively.

The approximately 20,000 definitions included in this volume are models of succinctness. Following each definition are illustrative quotations, which are arranged chronologically, beginning with the earliest documented use. These quotations, which are the true heart of each entry, serve not only to document a word's usage at a particular time but also to further elucidate its meaning. Culled from a wide variety of written and oral sources, including literary works, popular novels, other dictionaries, magazines, newspapers, motion pictures, television programs, and anonymous conversations, the more than 90,000 quotations in this volume range from the seventeenth century to the 1990s. The degree of currency is particularly impressive since a number of 1993 sources, and at least one 1994 publication, are represented. A complete list of the approximately 8,000 sources cited throughout the dictionary will not appear until volume 3. This delay may prove problematic for users trying to locate the source of a quotation because titles are provided in abbreviated form. For example Nathan McCall's Makes Me Wanna Holler is referred to as "N. McCall, Wanna Holler."

While there is no denying that perusing the pages of this volume can rattle one's sensibilities, the increasing permissiveness regarding language in today's society cannot be ignored. Only a decade or so ago, many of the words in this work were considered taboo, not just in polite society but also in the mass media. Today the infamous f word and words and phrases of similar ilk are cropping up in song lyrics, films, television programs, literary works, and mainstream magazines. The increasing usage and heightened awareness of such terms are not only reflected in this volume, but also make its publication even more timely and appropriate.

When completed, Lighter's dictionary will be, without a doubt, the most definitive and scholarly treatment of American slang ever published. Most academic and large public libraries will want to add this work, since its historical treatment complements the coverage of slang terms in the Dictionary of American Regional English and The Oxford English Dictionary. Getting down to the nitty-gritty, Lighter evidently is cooking with gas because he has done a bang-up job in compiling this tome. In short, it's awesome, fantabulous, rad, the cat's meow!


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Customer Reviews

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Maybe, but their book had, and still has, the most important merit a dictionary can have -- it is useful.
Harry Eagar
Having purchased the first two volumes, we've been waiting for 7 years for P~Z. This is an excellent, comprehensive work.
David A. Hall
The most vibrant languages heard throbbing through our land are now those not dictated by our anglo media.
C. Scanlon

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By John Abbott on September 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
According to a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal by Jennifer Ordonez (Sept 7, 2000), this dictionary may never get beyond the letter O. Random House have stopped work on the editing because of the cost, and linguist J E Lighter has stopped delivering the text because of a row over royalties. Ambitious dictionaries don't make a profit for publishers, and Random House says it only commissioned a one volume work originally, way back in 1984. But it has made some money. The article points out that the cult best-seller "The F-Word" is in fact an extraction of a single entry from volume 1 - published under project editor Jesse Sheidlower's name after Lighter refused to have his name used. One of the reasons Lighter has stopped giving material to Random House, says the article, is that he's worried they'll try and do the same thing with "the S-Word" and he doesn't want to be remembered as the F and S guy. You can read the whole article at wsj.com if you have a subscription.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is by far the most satisfying slang dictionary I've ever seen. The entries include obscure words and phrases that most people have never heard of, as well as common terms with all their subtle shades of meaning. For example, f*ck ("usually considered vulgar") exists as virtually every part of speech, and several pages are devoted solely to it. Definitions are straight forward, but the best part of the dictionary is the extensive usage quotes, given in chronological order. I also have volume II (H-O); it is just as good. I eagerly await volume III.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Grant Barrett on March 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Oxford University press is currently undertaking the massive editorial work required to finish this ground-breaking four-volume set that was started more than 25 years ago. The third volume, covering the alphabetic range of P through Sk, is due to appear in March 2007. Volume IV, covering Sk through Z and including a bibliography of tens of thousands of items, is planned for two years later.(...)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By settimio biondi on May 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Spectacular work, but....It is now 7 years that I have been waiting for this dictionary to be completed. I am now hearing that the third and last volume may not see light at all. The mere thought that Random House has brought its customers into a stupid situation like this is shocking. Not only it's a huge disappointment to its customers, but it's also a great loss to American lexicography. Does Random House think that this fiasco can me mended in the not too distant future? May we readers and customers expect a reply from Random House? What the hell.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David A. Hall on April 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I must agree with Settimio Biondi from Italy. Having purchased the first two volumes, we've been waiting for 7 years for P~Z. This is an excellent, comprehensive work. Hopefully, Oxford...or someone with a sense of responsibility...will finish the final volume.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By settimio biondi on May 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Spectacular work, but....It is now 7 years that I have been waiting for this dictionary to be completed. I am now hearing that the third and last volume may not see light at all. The mere thought that Random House has brought its customers into a stupid situation like this is shocking. Not only it's a huge disappointment to its customers, but it's also a great loss to American lexicography. Does Random House think that this fiasco can me mended in the not too distant future? May we readers and customers expect a reply from Random House? What the hell.
Does anybody know whether the deal between Random House and a British publisher, aimed at publishing the third volume was finally made?
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