Spears R.A. NTCs dictionary of American slang and colloquial expressions
The third edition of this dictionary contains more than 800 new expressions. These comprise the expressions that have appeared in the last few years—including many new expressions used in everyday talk on the streets and the college campus. The "Phrase-Finder Index" has been completely revised to make finding the location of new phrasal entries in the dictionary easier. What do we expect of slang in the year 2000 and beyond? Much of the same: sex, scatology, rudeness, and clever wordplay.
This dictionary is a collection of slang and colloquial expressions in frequent use in the United States in the twentieth century. It contains expressions that are familiar to many Americans and other expressions that are used primarily within small groups of people. The entries represent the language of the underworld, the nursery, the college campus, California beaches, urban back streets, and Wall Street. We hear from prisoners, surfers, junkies, Valley Girls, blacks, weight lifters, and just plain folks. Fad words, metaphors, wordplay, and various figures of speech make up the body of the dictionary.
There is no standard test that will decide what is slang or colloquial and what is not. Expressions that are identified as slang are often some type of entertaining wordplay, and they are almost always an alternative way of saying something. Colloquial expressions are usually spoken and are often thought of as being direct, earthy, or quaint. Slang and colloquial expressions come in different forms: single words, compound words, simple phrases, idioms, and complete sentences. Slang is rarely the first choice of careful writers or speakers or anyone attempting to use language for formal, persuasive, or business purposes. Nonetheless, expressions that can be called slang or colloquial make up a major part of American communication in movies, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and informal conversation.
Localized fad words are usually thought to have a short life, but other kinds of slang expressions may spread and last for a long time. The farther they spread, the longer they will last. If they last long enough, they may become so well known that they become standard English unavoidably. Most such slangy expressions simply join an enormous pool of similar expressions, and they are used until displaced by newer terms. At some point the old ones are put on hold until they are forgotten by everyone or revived by a new generation. Many expressions that hang around for decades will pop up again and again in novels and movies or in sporadic use in the speech of older generations.
For more than two hundred years, the jargon of criminals has been a major source of everyday slang words. Alcohol, drugs, and crime have been firmly fixed in the public consciousness since the time of prohibition in the United States. The entertainment value of crime and law enforcement has brought a constant stream of criminal slang into novels, movies, and radio and television shows over the last half century. This dictionary contains many of the expressions from these areas that have made public appearances through the years. Even more remain hidden behind closed doors. Matters of social taboo have also provided many slang expressions. Although strictly speaking taboo words are not slang, many taboo expressions have been included in this edition. Young people are responsible for a high proportion of the fad expressions and collegiate wordplay found here. Clever or insulting nicknames for types of people are the major linguistic product of this subgroup.
Whereas many of the entries are humorous or clever, others simply represent the everyday turns of phrase common to informal speech in the United States. Where possible, the examples are given in natural slangy language, even if it is ungrammatical in formal writing. The examples are to be taken as representative of slang usage, not of standard, formal English usage.
Most slang words that deal with personal type, race, sex, ethnic origins, and so forth, are quite rude—often hateful—and considered by some people taboo. No apology is made for those that are included. They are rude or they wouldn't be considered slang or colloquial. On the other hand, no attempt is made to include all of them, and many of the worst have been omitted. Slang is slang and anyone looking for an issue will find many of them in nonstandard vocabulary. It is worthwhile to include rude words and identify them as such for the sake of innocents who encounter these words on television, in the theater, in novels, in newspapers, in the workplace, in shops, and on the street.
The grammar and syntax of each expression are best determined from the examples that accompany each entry. The notion of "part of speech" is relevant to the function of individual words. The words within the clauses and phrases that are entries in the dictionary can be given part-of-speech labels, but it is the grammar and syntax of the entire phrase that is important. Each expression in the dictionary is assigned a "function code" that serves to indicate the functional potential of the entry expression. These codes represent function independently from form. That is to say, expressions that function the same get the same label. For instance, nouns, noun compounds, noun phrases, and noun clauses are all marked n. for "nominal." The codes are described in the following section, "Guide to the Use of the Dictionary."
Unlike standard English, few slang or colloquial expressions are standardized in spelling or punctuation. Standard dictionaries differ considerably as to whether a standard English compound is printed as one word, two words, or a hyphenated word. The spelling of slang entries is even more variable. This dictionary usually represents slang expressions in the form in which they were found in print, except for rhyming compounds, e.g., fat-cat or funny-money, which are always hyphenated in this book.
The entries come from many sources. Many have been collected and submitted by college students and other individuals. Much of the latest material has come directly from television and a lesser amount from contemporary radio. The Internet has become the newest major source of slang for the collector and reader. Standard reference works have been used to verify the meanings and spellings of older material. A surprising amount of old material has been verified in reruns of old movies. Many attestations have come from contemporary journalism, especially human interest and Sunday supplement material. A few of the examples are verbatim quotes of the original. Some are concocted, and many more have been edited to exemplify an expression's meaning more concisely than the original quote. The examples exist to illustrate meaning, not to prove the earliest date of print or broadcast dissemination.