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Slang, Slang, and More Slang

When Volume One of the Dictionary of American Regional English appeared in 1985 I was working in the Reference Department of the Boston Athenaeum, and never imagined that when volume five appeared, letters Sl-Z, I would have spent twenty-one years working at the Falmouth Public Library! That’s right twenty-seven years between volume one and volume five! I have to say I had really given up on the last volume ever appearing, and was just delighted to see it finally appear in March of this year. Imagine the dedication needed to finish such a project! A similar project, Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang published two volumes (through the letter O), and then stopped in 1997. There are still well founded rumors that Oxford University Press has taken over the project, and that one day two more volumes will appear.

Here’s the description from the dust jacket of the last volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English:

“With this fifth volume ... readers now have the full panoply of American regional vocabulary, from Adam’s housecat to Zydeco. Like the first four volumes, the fifth is filled with words that reflect our origins, migrations, ethnicities, and neighborhoods.”

The New York Times published a great list of words that appear in the newest volume. Here are a few that come from our part of the country:

TICKLY-BENDER(S) Thin or broken ice on a body of water; running or skating on such ice. Chiefly Northeast.
VUM To declare, swear. Chiefly New England.
WHIFFLE A crew cut. Chiefly eastern Massachusetts.

Look more closely, and you’ll find a whole column of words that come from Cape Cod, including “Cape Cod clergyman”, “Cape Cod fence”, “Cape Cod measure”, “Cape Cod protection”, and “Cape Cod stifle”. My favorite is the “Cape Cod turkey” which dates back to 1865 and the quotation used is: “A salted cod fish is known in American ships as a Cape Cod turkey.”

So stop by the Reference Department and see what words you can find in volume five, and you might even want to take a look at another new slang dictionary called Green’s Dictionary of Slang by Jonathon Green. As Library Journal reported: “This 6000-page compilation of some 110,000 choice unconventional English specimens is a verbivore’s delight.”

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