From Library Journal
--Ken Kister, author of "Best Encyclopedias," Tampa, Fla.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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!