Green's Dictionary of Slang: An Appeal

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In the April 3, 2011 issue of the New York Times Book Review, I appraised Jonathon Green's wonderfully comprehensive three-volume reference work, Green's Dictionary of Slang (GDoS to its friends). I concluded the review essay thusly:

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.

Now, at year's end, it turns out that Green's plan to make GDoS available online has run into some trouble. He asked me to post the following appeal on Language Log, responses to which should be directed to him (email address below).

An Appeal.

Around twelve months ago Chambers/Hodder in the UK published my 3-volume, 6,200-page dictionary of 500 hundred years of worldwide anglophone slang: Green's Dictionary of Slang. It has been distributed in N. America by OUP/US. It received a variety of gratifyingly appreciative reviews but while a number of these termed it my 'life's work', the reality is that my life continues and so does the work. In the last year the database has increased by some 6,000 new citations, headwords and senses of existing terms; in many cases these provide earlier examples of use. I have every intention of carrying on expanding, revising and correcting, even if the ever-widening range of sources available on the net mean that I can never achieve complete coverage of what is on offer.

The net, of course, has changed everything, nowhere more than as regards reference publishing, for which it provides a natural home. For reasons that need not be detailed, I do not have a publisher willing to partner me in this. I have, on the other hand, the digital rights.

My primary aim now is to get my work on line. I wish to provide a 'front-end' to the research database, taking advantage of the sophisticated search functions that a digital version of the work can offer, and making that work available to a far wider audience than is currently the case. I do not have a 'business plan' as such, but would see a two-tier format: a version without citations that would be free to all (an approximate, but of course much-improved equivalent of my one-volume uncited Chambers Dictionary of Slang which appeared in 2008), and a version that offered citations, and a regular update based on continuing research, for a subscription. (The fruits of that research would also be included in updates of the free version). I would welcome user input, but that material would necessarily be properly mediated prior to inclusion. I believe the dictionary could work as an app for tablets, and that there are a variety of alternative formats in which it could be presented.

I cannot do this alone and I am looking for some form of a partner, sponsor or, to tip my hat to Samuel Johnson, patron. Whether this would be an academic institution – I have interest there but it is far from resolved – a publisher or simply an organisation that sees the value of the work in a digital form even if it has no knowledge of reference in general and slang in particular, I do not know. It may be that the last would be the most suitable. I can, after all, provide the scholarship; what I need, and what I cannot do myself, is to offer expertise in managing an on line work nor in promoting/marketing it. Nor do I have the skills to administer the technology.

So I know what I want, but I do not know where to find it. The possibilities are vast and I have to admit that faced by them all I become something of a babe in the digital woods. The one thing of which I am wholly certain is that the work should be sustained and that I am continuing to do so. Any suggestions, advice or introductions would be gratefully received.

Jonathon Green


  1. Lindan Johnson said,

    December 31, 2011 @ 3:21 pm

    Dear Jonathon,
    I greatly appreciate your life's work… and it seems to me that while you search for your digital patron- at the very least you should be be starting a list of your supporters who would be willing to pay a monthly subscription rate (like I do for the OED). I also pledged $5 a month to support Wikipedia (and will increase that soon). I also think you're right-you need Digital Dude or Diva who can work the magic of creating the right platform that will showcase your work and delight and amaze your seekers. Finally- take a look at Kickstarter ( because this sounds like a perfect project to get the initial funding to formulate a business plan, tech design AND attract some tech talent who might want to join you for the next stages of the project. You can provide an assortment of "pledge gifts"- for $25 people can get 5 of their favorite slang words (def, origin, etc) in their choice of font [you list ten choices] printed on lovely sheets of archival paper suitable for framing. You can create higher level "rewards" – people do include $5,000… $10,000 level awards that include sponsorship or participation deals.

    Count me in.


  2. teucer said,

    December 31, 2011 @ 5:31 pm

    I second Kickstarter. I can't afford to contribute the kind of sponsorship it would take to make this happen – but if it were a kickstarter campaign, I'd toss in twenty bucks. I'm certain I'm not the only one in that position.

  3. Olof said,

    December 31, 2011 @ 9:19 pm

    Gluejar (at is working on crowdsourced funding models for works like this, especially where libraries might be interested in having free access to the work (disclosure: the founder of Gluejar is my brother).

  4. Jeremy Wheeler said,

    January 1, 2012 @ 6:49 am

    What a wonderful idea! Email sent direct to JG.

    On an entirely unrelated point, is your use of "thusly" ironic, Ben?

  5. languagehat said,

    January 1, 2012 @ 11:25 am

    On an entirely unrelated point, is your use of "thusly" ironic, Ben?

    Huh? From M-W Collegiate: "thusly adv (1865) : in this manner : thus." Not even a "nonstand"; it is a perfectly acceptable word. Surely we are not polluting the comment threads of Log posts with prescriptivist peevery?

  6. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 1, 2012 @ 11:49 am

    In my opinion, the first thing Jonathon Green needs to do is put a sample of his dictionary on line so people know what they'd be supporting. He might be able to prevail on his publisher to make a few pages visible at Amazon, or he should be able to put a scan or something on his Web site.

    The second thing is to explain exactly what needs to be done, possibly at Mr. Green's site. What form does he have the text in? Does it have a lot of formatting that he'd like to convert automatically? A lot of potential hyperlinks? Does he need help accepting payments on line and giving access to the citations to payers? (Obviously that's a solved problem, but I have no idea how to do it.) Does he have a method for user input in mind, and does he want a way that trusted people can edit the dictionary?

    It seems to me that if he has word-processor files with the complete version and the citation-less version, he could use a wiki farm to have a usable version of most of what he wants within a day or two, though not the alternative formats or the tablet app.

  7. Jeremy Wheeler said,

    January 1, 2012 @ 11:58 am

    Indeed, as M-W dictionary of English Usage says, “whatever its [comic] origins thusly is not now merely an ignorant or comic substitute for thus”. It is, though, rare (97 hits in one million words in the COHA) and I genuinely wondered how it was being used by Ben. Prescriptivist peevery? Hardly.

  8. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 1, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

    @languagehat: Acceptable to who? If you mean thusly is acceptable to everybody, it isn't, as stated in the AHD and the MWDEU. Or do you mean something else?

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 1, 2012 @ 3:23 pm

    @Jeremy Wheeler: To my amazement, M-W says, "Thusly appears to be appreciably more common than thus when the adverb follows the verb and precedes a colon (more common than either is a phrase such as 'in this way')."

    At COCA, I got 218 hits for thus with a colon and 52 for thusly with a colon. All the hits I looked at on thusly seemed relevant; not all the ones on thus were, but it seemed well over half were. (I don't have time to count right now.) So I have my doubts that thusly is really more common than thus in this situation, but it's not all that rare, either.

  10. Jeremy Wheeler said,

    January 1, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

    @Jerry Friedman: I think there is also a Br Eng/Amer Eng difference. Only two hits in total from the BNC.

  11. Jeremy Wheeler said,

    January 1, 2012 @ 5:36 pm

    Oh, and as I seem to have slightly taken over the thread, can I just add that I got a charming reply when I emailed Jonathon Green, who is still looking for support from some sort of institution, academic or otherwise.

  12. David said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 11:56 am

    Consider approaching, this may be something they could fold into their family of sites.

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