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|This article originally appeared in Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records, edited by Kory L. Meyerink.|
Slang dictionaries offer definitions for unconventional words. Two well-known examples are Dictionary of American Slang, by Harold Wentworth and Stuart Berg Flexner, and A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, by Eric Partridge. Both dictionaries present definitions of slang and special terms from various vocations, geographical regions, and ethnic groups.
Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English includes colloquialisms and catch phrases, fossilized jokes and puns, general nicknames, and vulgarisms. An appendix of items too unwieldy to fit comfortably into the main text includes occupational names, Cockney English catch-phrases, and “Railwaymen’s Slang and Nicknames.” The latter is illustrated in the attached image.
The Dictionary of American Slang is one of the best American slang dictionaries. It features a ten-page overview of American slang and its evolution. Also included is an interesting discussion of groups within American culture responsible for the proliferation of slang in everyday English. Flexner notes that the vocabulary of the average American is estimated at ten thousand to twenty thousand words. Of this amount, Flexner estimates that two thousand are slang words and that they are among the most frequently used (Wentworth and Flexner 1975, viii).
Slang dictionaries often list words that have a specific or cultural emphasis, such as Words of the Vietnam War, by Gregory R. Clark, and Dictionary of Afro-American Slang, by Clarence Major. There are also dialect and regional dictionaries for most areas within the United States. The attached figure shows an entry found in the regional dictionary Western Words: A Dictionary of the American West, by Ramon Frederick Adams.