Exploring Language With Slang ...

dictionary of slang interview

I’ve enjoyed the back and forth with Jonathon in bringing his perspective on “chasing down words” and storytelling to this neighborhood.

Before jumping to the final question, a few thoughts –

  • I spend $3.50 on a large Red Sea (coffee) at Philz a couple times a week. The Dictionary of Slang retails for $450, though Amazon has shaved 3 percent off the retail price (to encourage impulse buys?). If I can abstain from Philz for 62 weeks, assuming Amazon keeps the “discounted” price, I think I can rationalize to the wife purchasing the Dictionary of Slang. I promise to report back in June 2012 if I made it to the finish line.
  • When I decided to break up Jonathon’s answers into three consecutive posts, he wondered whether the individual answers would have enough depth, noting, “When you’re used to putting together 10.6 million-word dictionaries (well, one dictionary) everything seems a bit short in comparison.” Now, that’s context.
  • Finally, it always comes down to passion, doesn’t it? Whether you’re brewing coffee at Philz, rehabbing old chairs (my wife’s endeavor) or writing a dictionary on slang, if you love what you’re doing that passion comes through.

Without further ado, here’s how Jonathon explains his passion for language:

Q: The type of person who devotes 17 years to creating the Dictionary of Slang must like words. Going back to your childhood and school, did you have a natural affinity for words? What cultivated your love for language?

A: I have no real answer to this other than ‘of course I like words and I never feel happier than when tussling with them in one way or another’. I regularly feel quite consciously that ‘yes, you should be doing what you do’, which is of course a great privilege. I call GDoS a ‘life’s work’ not on chronological grounds – it took only 17 of my near 63 years (and I have worked on slang for 27 in all) – but insofar as slang and its collection and analysis seems to play so central a role in my consciousness, then it is indeed my life. As to what cultivated my love for language, I cannot say since I do not know. I have always loved reading, far beyond any other ‘hobby’; indeed I have never had hobbies, other than, unsurprisingly, collecting books – once the work of PG Wodehouse, more recently dictionaries of slang. I see slang as subversive and contrary and its collection is perhaps my proxy attempt at a personal subversion. The reality is of course a middle-aged, middle-class, white European male working in a study or in libraries. A voyeur, perhaps, on lives that he could never essay and which would most likely terrify him if he did. No matter: outside of certain human beings, it has provided me with the greatest satisfactions of my life. There are no boxes I can tick to explain why. Other than that which, in very large letters, says ‘Luck’.

Thank you, Jonathon, for allowing a look behind the book.


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