In this richly entertaining book, Jonathon Green traces the development of slang and its trajectory through society, and offers an impassioned argument for its defence. Beginning, at least in recorded terms, in the gutter and the thieves' tavern, and displayed only in a few criminological pamphlets, slang has made its way up and out: across social classes and into every medium.There is no doubt that slang deals with those areas of life that standard English often chooses to sidestep. Certainly, slang has many more synonyms for topics such as crime, drunkenness and recreational drug-taking, sexual intercourse and the parts of the body with which we conduct it (and a variety of other functions), for madness, stupidity, unattractiveness, violence, racism and nationalism. That, for the author, is its role and its charm.
Often dismissed as 'bad' language or 'swear-words', slang, he argues, is a 'counter-language', the language that says no. Born in the street it resists the niceties of the respectable. It is language's film noir, its banana skin, its pin that pops pretention. It is neither respectable nor respectful.
It can be cruel, it can also be inventive, creative and very often funny. It represents us at our most human.
Language! is an exuberant and rewarding work that uncovers an oral history of marginality and rebellion, of dispossession and frustration, and it shows how slang gives a vocabulary and a voice to our most guarded thoughts.
Jonathon Green is Britain's foremost lexicographer of slang. His many publications include the Chambers Slang Dictionary, the Slang Thesaurus, Slang Down the Ages and the multivolume Green's Dictionary of Slang. He has also compiled dictionaries of quotations and oral histories of modern culture. He lives in London and Paris.
Exhilarating... Green is an elegant, caustic, knowledgeable writer, always lucid, never patronising, always entertaining.
The Times - Paula Byrne
In his relentless campaign to drag slang out of the sewer and brothel and into the drawing-room and academy, Green has no rival. He is the Dr Johnson of slang, its Putin, its Mr Toad, its Dickens.
Daily Telegraph - Nicholas Shakespeare
Language! bursts with linguistic interest and fun historical nuggets.
Guardian - Sam Leith