FAREWELL SPECIAL – There Is No Word for ‘Love’ in Slang

Since his very first column for The Dabbler in January 2011, Jonathon Green has barely missed a Thursday post. But now, after some 138 posts and umpteen thousand words, we regret to say that Mr Slang has decided to relinquish his weekly duties.
Everyone at The Dabbler heartily thanks him for his astonishing contribution to the site. It won’t be the same place without him, but we hope he’ll pop up with the occasional missive, so we haven’t necessarily seen the last of Mr Slang.
As a final hurrah, here’s a classic from the archives, in which Jonathon searches for love, and finds only sex and drugs…

I tried to write a musical once. No, you shouldn’t laugh, really. I had lunched well, couldn’t face the database and it served to counterfeit work. It was called – goodness, how did you guess – Slang! I forget the plot – which is always the problem: I can sketch the puppets but can never make them dance – and it came to nothing. I composed, well, doodled, what I laughingly termed some lyrics. There was only one that was passable. It was called ‘There’s No Word for “Love” in Slang’. As I recall, the hero (poor, honest and resolutely foul-mouthed) sang it on his way to meet the heroine (rich, daughter of a grasping, snobbish papa, and forbidden on pain of disinheritance any non-standard syllables). You can see why I didn’t finish it. But the song title was correct. Because there isn’t.

Valentine’s Day will have passed by the time this appears, but no troths will have been plighted on behalf of the counter-language. If one searches for ‘love’ as a headword, one finds several. Though none, I would note, a verb. There is love as in ‘love of a…’ which is a term of praise kindred to duck, as in ‘duck of …’ and tends to apply to small children or else items of clothing: hats, dresses, although Walter, he of My Secret Life, recalls how, on holiday, his hosts offered to ‘get me a love of an Italian boy to bugger.’ And there is the cry of Lord love a duck! which combines them. But it should surprise no-one that love is usually found in compounds, and that in the bulk of those compounds the word is substituting for ‘sex’. Thus these, for the penis, which of which at least some seem to have escaped from heavy metal, or at least a Spinal Tap tribute band: love bone, love dart, love gun, love hammer, love muscle, love pump, love rod, love staff, lovesteak, love stick, love torpedo, love truncheon and love warrior. (Not mention corporal love, which fleshy non-com ‘stands to attention’). If one has one genital than one must have its opposite number. Here it is: the love box, love canal, love crack, love flesh, love glove, love hole, love lane (and thus take a turn on Love Lane and Mount Pleasant, to have sex), lovelips, love’s cabinet, love seat and the love shack which can double as the place a man keeps for seductions and as an object of sexual desire (who can also, lord help them, be a love muffin) and conquest. (The fountain or treasury of love work too).

Nor are we done with the licentious list: love apples, grenades and spuds are testicles; the love button is the clitoris, love rug the female pubic hair, love custard and love juice semen, and the love envelope, a condom. Love handles (the idea being that one can hold on to them during sex) represent the excess flesh around a portly stomach that may be seen in a kinder light by those who appreciate the Rubenesque figure. There is the love bug, which in this context stands for VD rather than VW, as in the twee Herbie. And, how could we forget, the love machine is a what an older synonymy termed the ‘town bull.’

Love’s lexis is not all sexual. There are always the drugs: a love affair (punning on slang’s nicknames) is a speedball, i.e. a mixture of heroin (‘boy’) and cocaine (‘girl’). The love drug, plain and simple, is MDMA or Ecstasy, love weed marijuana and pure love LSD. Love curls were a hairstyle in which the hair is cut short and worn low over the forehead, love-pot a drunkard. Perhaps slang’s take is best summed up in love letter, an American usage of the 1940s defined either as a bullet or as some form of hard projectile thrown at a human target. And for the love of Mike! (who can also be Heaven! holy Buddha! Jupiter! Michael Angelo! Moses! Pete (and Alf)! Peter the hermit! and Polly Simpkins!) is an exclamation of exasperation or surprise.

One can expand the search, but can one render the definitions more affectionate? No. Love and kisses, rhyming on ‘the missus’ at least suggests a tinge of harmony, but love and marriage is merely a carriage, while other rhymes offer love and hate (weight), God-love-her (one’s mother) and light of love (a prison governor), and never forget that this, un-rhymed, means a whore.

Last chance: definitions containing ‘love’. Excluding those that include ‘affair’. Slang resists moderation and passion, even obsession are the rule. Not much improvement here. Do one’s balls on, busted on, collared on, dead set on, daffy, dotty, doughy, drop one’s ovaries (a gay term as it happens, at least in South Africa), fall for, have it for, hung up on, gone a million, nuts on, potty, snowed over, soft, spoons on, stuck on, go turtles on (‘turtle dove’ = love) and wrapped. Is it me, or do other also fail to hear much in the way of hearts and flowers? Half of them, after all, are synonyms for ‘mad’. As for sugar on and sweet on, it is not merely my diabetes that shudders.

I give up. Slang and love use single beds, or draw a line with what used to be known as the Dutch wife, i.e. a bolster (though modern use has redefined the phrase as a blow-up ‘love doll’). I gave up the musical too. Let it not be said, however, that my creative fantasies are at an end. I see…the hard-boiled slang lexicographer. ‘They call me Lex, lady, Lex Argot. Argot’s the name — etymology’s my game’. No guns, just a vast and heavy book. And maybe the cute and of course sassy lesbian mixed-race sidekick, who speaks only in Multi-ethnic London English. Or rhyming slang. ‘There are 120,000 words in the naked dictionary: this has been one of them.’

image ©Gabriel Green
You can buy Green’s Dictionary of Slang, as well as Jonathon’s more slimline Chambers Slang Dictionary, plus other entertaining works, at his Amazon page. Jonathon also blogs and Tweets.
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About Author Profile: Jonathon Green

Jonathon 'Mr Slang' Green is the world's leading lexicographer of English slang. You can buy Green's Dictionary of Slang, as well as Jonathon's more slimline Chambers Slang Dictionary, plus other entertaining works, at his Amazon page. Jonathon also blogs and Tweets.

9 thoughts on “FAREWELL SPECIAL – There Is No Word for ‘Love’ in Slang

  1. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    September 5, 2013 at 09:13

    What a bang to go out on Jonathon, you, who are about to be sorely missed, are well and truly saluted.

    I can visualise it now Slang the movie.

  2. finalcurtain@gmail.com'
    September 5, 2013 at 13:58

    Although I rarely felt able to comment on Jonathon’s marvellous posts, I looked forward to them with an almost spooky sense of anticipation – followed, mostly, by the glee and ‘titter ye not’ moments as his erudition and lexicographical skills unfolded, reminding this writer at least of how little of my own language I usefully employ, in speech or ink. The great wordsmith Heaney has gone; Jonathon is still with us, but I miss him already.

  3. wormstir@gmail.com'
    September 5, 2013 at 15:58

    A sad day indeed. My favourite JG posts were always ones featuring and/or denigrating Australians

  4. john.hh43@googlemail.com'
    John Halliwell
    September 5, 2013 at 16:02

    I feel as though I’ve just opened a telegram informing me of the loss of the Titanic. I somehow felt JG and Thursdays were inseparable, unbreakable. Thanks for all those wonderful posts, Jonathon; I enjoyed them immensely and learned a great deal.

  5. tobyash@hotmail.com'
    September 5, 2013 at 18:04

    Thursdays will never be the same again. Thanks so much Jonathon for your wonderful posts. You will be sorely missed.

  6. andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
    September 5, 2013 at 20:24

    It has been a privilege and a treat to spend the last two and half years receiving weekly JG’s missives and posting them to The Dabbler. Choosing the picture is always fun too. Thanks for the incredible archive – who can forget the ‘Seven Deadly Sins of Slang’?

  7. jgslang@gmail.com'
    September 6, 2013 at 10:07

    Thank you all for having me and allowing me to yammer on. It has been enormously enjoyable. As for now, as Gaw put it in a mail: au revoir but hopefully not adieu.

  8. bensix@live.co.uk'
    September 6, 2013 at 12:28

    Thank you for your splendid posts, Mr Green. And, for that matter, thanks, cheers, props, cool and nice one.

  9. Gaw
    September 7, 2013 at 08:20

    My favourites were the London ones – the language was so pungent one could almost smell the places. I think they would have made brilliant Radio 4 on location talks (any producers out there?). Anyhow, thank you JG!

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