jonathon green
We are lucky today to feature the one and only Mister Slang – Lexicographer Jonathon Green, late of this parish, who has been so busy since we last saw him that he has managed to produce not one but two new books on his life’s work. Here for your reading pleasure is an exclusive extract from his autobiographical ‘Odd Job Man – Confessions of a slang Lexicographer‘…

As for the alleged death of traditional reference: who says? as we would have put it in the playground. Who says those fat 
dictionaries are good for only propping up tables or holding open
doors? Perhaps we all do. We have fallen prey not merely to the
 market and what for the majority are its cruel economics, but to a great tsunami of propaganda. Because as we have drummed into
 us on the hour and every hour, books are finished; the ‘dead tree’ 
has joined the Dead White European Male in the chamber of
 modern horrors. Digital is all, ebooks are the future and devil take 
the incomputerate. For traditionalists the bad is yet again driving 
out the good. Amazon parades its stats and notes that electronic
 downloads have surpassed paper. It does not note that the change
 does not represent addition, merely substitution. The reading public 
seems to remain as was. Only the list of writers has swelled. The
slush pile has taken wing and flourishes. Some of these have and
 will triumph: naturally, since why should shit cease to float? 
This is not luddism. I have used a computer since 1984 and
 would shudder at a world without my database. Nor is it even 
elitism. My shelves are crammed with titles that, dependent on 
slang, are far from ‘literary’. Pulp fiction of one variety or another. 
I am biased, of course, but many such have style and wit and their
 authors had no choice but to fight for a place in the bookshops. 
Those who wrote them did so for money, to get money it was
necessary to reach a certain standard – otherwise what exactly 
was the point? They could not simply announce themselves as 
authors and demand that the world assume it to be so.

Is this cultural puritanism? Perhaps. The perennial debates inform me 
that I whinge too much. That Canute did not manage to withhold
 the incoming tide. If I make no money I have only myself to 
blame. Do it yourself: throw yourself into the arms of the social 
networks, promote yourself, interface with your readers. I see it 
all around me: authors who, day upon day, tweet their new 
releases and their backlists to a legion of followers. Perhaps, but
 life, surely and especially surely for me, is too short. And, I must 
ask, does this factor in a time for actual work? 
Having used lex as my defence for thirty years – constructing my 
redoubt with every hwd/def/ety/cite – I find that it no longer works.

The bastion has become a Maginot Line, and the new world walks 
confidently round it without even dignifying it with a salvo. It is fine 
to make the rules of the game, in the confident hope that thereby 
you can win – so long as a parallel set have not evolved while you 
weren’t looking. As I keep noting, what matters is not what should
 be but what is – unpalatable though it may be – and ‘what is’ is that 
around twenty years ago I popped out – not for a pack of fags but 
to write a three-volume dictionary of slang – and when, time having
 passed, my hair grown grey and the book finally published, I returned, 
I found the world turned upside down.

 Get your hands on your own copy of Jonathon’s fantastic book by clicking here.

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  1. George on Thursday 8, 2014

    A couple of quibbles:

    The reading public and the purchasing public are not exactly the same. If somebody proposed to pay you $1 for every copy of Capital in the Twenty-First Century purchased, on the condition that you pay $50 for every copy read through, you should accept and wait for the checks to arrivel. Electronic copies make impulse purchases that much easier, but do the purchases–electronic or paper all get read?

    Self promotion takes many forms. Tweeting must be easier on the liver than frequenting nightclubs, and might be less tedious than book tours, hunting, fishing, etc.

  2. Worm on Thursday 8, 2014

    I’m half way through Odd Job Man at the moment, fantastic read and shot through with some terrific little glimpses of Mr Slang’s previous lives

  3. malty on Thursday 8, 2014

    Read the Guardian review yesterday, at least I think it was a review, it had the tang of a Sid Rumpole ramble, according to the review Jonathon is either a good egg or a sinner requiring re-educating, either way, the click has occurred and it’s in the Warenkorb. On a lighter note and referring to the video, I am frequently puzzled by expressions such as tight as a duck’s arse, how do they know that? similarly a midge’s dick, who checked? are there groups of people wandering the streets, micrometer in hand looking for the little blighters who, I would say, would be seriously miffed.

    • Worm on Thursday 8, 2014

      I guess they didn’t have much else to do back in those days before X Factor.