Monday, 25 October 2010

Green's Dictionary of Slang - from raspberry to rannygazoo

I have the Partidge Dictionary and I have the Cassell Dictionary. Now, however, it looks as though the new gold standard in dictionaries of slang will be the new three-volume Green's Dictionary. Writing in The Telegraph, Jeremy Noel-Tod (a contributor to the dictionary) describes how it was compiled from a variety of sources including the works of P G Wodehouse:
Training began with a pile of early PG Wodehouse novels. These related the adventures of Psmith, the man about town who revelled in such phrases as “last night’s rannygazoo” several years before Bertie Wooster began to bounce them off the silver-plated English of Jeeves.

Rannygazoo (“nonsense; irrelevant, irritating activity”) was an easy spot. And because Wodehouse is full of such exuberance, marking up the books seemed a breeze. I remember my disappointment when I learnt that I was regularly missing useful citations.

When you begin to study it, much more familiar language reveals itself as slang. A few pages on in the new dictionary, for example, Wodehouse yields a citation for the “coarse, dismissive, jeering noise” that most people would call a “raspberry”. As the definition indicates, it doesn’t have another name – I had always dimly thought of it as a more fruity sort of “rasp”. But it actually derives from rhyming slang, where phrases are often shortened to exclude the rhyme that reveals the word intended – and, in this case, the thing imitated (“raspberry tart”).
I would love to have a copy of Green's Dictionary. As it costs almost £300, however, I may have to do without - unless some kind Bertie Wooster-type Aunt decides to buy her beloved nephew a copy for Christmas, that is....


  1. But, Sir Courtly, you can get it on for £130. Not cheap, but cheap-er.


  2. Thank you for that information, Jonathon. Be assured, all the relevant aunts have been informed of this. I have no doubt that they shall rally round to ensure that a smile blossoms forth among the wrinkles of their beloved nephew's face on Christmas morning!