Green's Dictionary of Slang goes online

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Today, Green's Dictionary of Slang (GDoS for short) launches its online version. This is excellent news, coming more than five years after Jonathon Green published the print edition of his exhaustive three-volume reference work. As I wrote in the New York Times Book Review at the time,

It's a never-ending challenge to keep up with the latest developments in the world of slang, but that is the lexicographer’s lot. Green plans to put his dictionary online for continuous revision, which is indeed the direction that many major reference works (including the O.E.D.) are now taking. In the meantime, his monument to the inventiveness of speakers from Auckland to Oakland takes its place as the pièce de résistance of English slang studies. To put it plain, it’s copacetic.

Despite some tough sledding along the way, GDoS now sees the light of day online. Below is Jonathon Green's announcement. (For more, read the coverage in Quartz, and also see the dictionary's blog.) The good news is that headwords, etymologies, and definitions are freely available through online searches, while the full entries, with voluminous citations for each sense of each word, are available for an annual subscription fee.

Green's Dictionary of Slang Online will be launched on October 12, 2016 at

GDoS Online represents a digital development of the original print edition of Green’s Dictionary of Slang (GDoS) which appeared in 2010 (2011 in the US). Its three volumes offered c.53,000 headwords, in which were nested 110,000 slang terms. These were supported by some 410,000 examples of usage. The book won America’s Dartmouth Prize for the outstanding non-fiction work of 2011 and was cited, among many positive reviews, as ‘Quite simply the best historical dictionary of English slang there is, ever has been … or is ever likely to be’ (Julie Coleman, Journal of English Language and Linguistics).

What was good can always become better. Print publication did not mean the end of research. The internet provides the best possible platform for reference and a slang dictionary is no exception. It also opens up a great deal of once hard-to-access material: GDoS Online has benefited and the information it offers has been vastly augmented by the appearance online of a growing number of newspaper databases. Both John Bartlett (of Americanisms) and Sir James Murray (of the OED) noted that the press offered the best place to find new language. The much-expanded presence of newspaper citations, often the earliest on record, is a major feature of GDoS Online.

Meanwhile the slang lexis continues to evolve and expand. The Internet, of course, provides so many potential sources, whether historical or contemporary. If the lexicographer’s problem was once where to look, it is now in assessing at which point one dare stop looking.

Current figures show that the launch database stands at 54,500 main headwords, comprising some 132,000 nested terms. The citation count is c. 650,000. The dictionary has increased in size since 2010 by some 59,000 new citations found in 15,500 entries. Geographical depth has been expanded by the reinstatement or addition of many more examples. In all, nearly 30% of the print book has been revised, augmented and generally improved.

The dictionary will remain ‘live’ and research will continue. Rather than being bound by the restrictions of print, it will offer a far wider range of citations. The search for ‘first recorded uses’ will continue. Around 10,000 such antedatings have emerged since 2010. The expansion of geographical spread will be pursued. Where once it was necessary for reasons of space to offer only a single cite per decade, thus excluding much material, the aim is now to show as wide as possible number of examples from across the Anglophone world. The original printed entries will also be expanded, both historically — through the search for earlier ‘first uses’ but also through the addition of hitherto un-recorded words and phrases — and in the adding of new, contemporary material.

As opposed to a print dictionary, GDoS Online will be fully searchable, whether for definitions, etymologies, authors, titles, first uses, a variety of usage labels and more. Those who wish to know how many words James Joyce used for sexual intercourse or Charles Dickens for drunk will find their answers. And whether any came from Yiddish. There is a detailed bibliography and further tools are due to be added.

While these are rough estimates only, the dictionary breaks down into the following major themes and categories; the order is based on frequency of definition:

Crime and Criminals 5012; Drink, Drinking and Drunks 4589; Drugs 3976; Money 3342; Women (almost invariably considered negatively or at best sexually) 2968; Fools and Foolish 2403; Men (of various descriptions, not invariably, but often self-aggrandizing) 2183; Sexual Intercourse 1740; Penis: 1351; Homosexuals/-ity 1238; Prostitute/-ion 1185; Vagina 1180; Policeman / Policing 1034; Terms of Racial or National Abuse: 1000; Masturbate/-ion 945; Die, Death, Dead 831; Beat or Hit 728; Mad 776; Anus or Buttocks 634; Defecate/-ion & Urinate/-ion 540; Kill or Murder 521; Promiscuous / Promiscuity 347; Unattractive 279; Fat 247; Oral Sex 240; Vomiting 219; Anal Sex 180; STDs 65.

All of this will be represented in the launch version of GDoS Online, and augmented by regular updates, initially on a quarterly basis.


GDoS Online will be available on two levels: those who wish only for a headword, an etymology and a definition can access that information for free (the material being the equivalent of the author’s non-cited single-volume dictionaries). For those who wish to access the ever-expanding range of citations (which include a timeline of their development) and enjoy the full extent of search functions, we are charging an annual subscription. This is currently set at £49.00 ($60.00) for single users, £10.00 ($12.50) for students. Prices are available on enquiry for institutional subscriptions.

Jonathon Green [lexicographer]

David Kendal [programmer]


  1. Rubrick said,

    October 12, 2016 @ 5:03 pm

    This sounds spectacular — though "exhaustive" seems unlikely. :-)

    Acutally though… I interpret "exhaustive" as essentially reflecting the mathematical usage, as in "covering every possible case", in which case neither this nor any other dictionary will ever be truly exhaustive.

    But perhaps in common usage "exhaustive" is instead intended to just convey "requiring a tremendous amount of work"?

  2. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 13, 2016 @ 4:54 pm

    Definitely not exhaustive. I looked for birders' slang; the dictionary has other senses of twitch, peep, butter butt, but not the birding senses. I also couldn't find the bridge players' white (not vulnerable) or the chess players' sac(k) (sacrifice).

    Another thing I couldn't find was criteria for inclusion, which might explain that those terms are too specialized or rare.

  3. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 13, 2016 @ 4:55 pm

    I should add that it's still an astonishing achievement, and I had fun looking at various words that were in there.

  4. Andreas Johansson said,

    October 14, 2016 @ 10:34 am

    "Sac" for sacrifice isn't unique to chess players – I first heard, I believe, in a Magic the Gathering context, and I've seen it used with reference to various other games too.

  5. Robin Sinn said,

    October 18, 2016 @ 8:17 am

    I have a question for Ben. I'm a librarian, trying to get a quote for an institutional subscription, but the quote function isn't working on the website. And there's no 'contact us' info, either. Do you have any suggestions for getting in touch?
    Robin Sinn
    Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University

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