Cassell's Dictionary of Slang

by Jonathan Green

Do you spit with that much cough? Phr. [1910s-20s] (Can.) a phr. used to acknowledge that one has heard a companion break wind.


While most books are designed to be read in an all-too-familiar, chapter by chapter, linear mode, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, by British lexicographer Jonathan Green, begs to be appreciated in an entirely natural, random fashion. Instead of chapters, the entire text of slang words and phrases is arranged alphabetically. So, for instance, if the letter “s” is calling your name, you may turn to page 1085, scan the conveniently situ­ated vertical columns and arrive at:


slabbing n. [1970s+] sexual intercourse with a corpse; thus slab boy, a necrophiliac. [the corpse is laid out on a mortuary slab]  


One quickly sees the utility of having 70,000 quirky and often surprising entries at one’s fingertips. And, while some might choose to refer to the publication as a “reference” book, a cursory scan reveals what is in reality a work of high literary accomplishment. In this case, the author is humanity itself, exercising its collective imagination with the etymologically muscular English language. Let’s take a look at another prime example of organically grown eloquence, by opening the book to, say…page 480, where we find:


get off/out at Broadgreen, to phr. [20C] to per­form coitus interruptus, i.e. withdrawal well before ejacu­lation (cf. GET OFF AT EDGE HILL; GET OFF AT GATESHEAD; GET OFF AT HAYMARKET; GET OFF AT HILLGATE; GET OFF AT PAISLEY; GET OFF AT RED­FERN; LEAVE BEFORE THE GOSPEL). [Broadgreen is the station before Edge Hill which is the station before Liver­pool Lime Street]   


Reading further down, we find that the train stations men­tioned in this expression reflect its popularity in the geograph­ically disparate cities of Liverpool, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Bristol, Edinburgh, London, Glasgow and Sydney. In one sim­ple phrase, we’re given a colorful picture of local subculture, valuable information on rail destinations and insightful social commentary on erotic behavior.

While it’s true that over half of  the entries refer to sexual intercourse, human genitals and masturbation, there are also many commonplace, familiar selections such as diddly-squat, muckety-muck, yackety-yak and “you left the barn gate open.” For the true connoisseur of slang, though, the whole kit and caboodle is here. If you’re full of your shirt and ready to leap nine hedges, pick up Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang at your favorite used book storeIt’ll take the sole off your shoes!

(published in Whistling Shade)