I’ve been coming across plaudits for Jonathon Green’s Green’s Dictionary of Slang for some time now, often with adjectives like “monumental” attached, and of course I wanted to know what the fuss was about. Ben Zimmer, in his NY Times review (where he appropriately calls it “copacetic”), explains:
Green spent 17 years compiling his opus, and the historical material he has amassed, in some 415,000 citations, is astounding. Whenever possible, he includes a citation from every decade of a term’s existence. Thus, if you look up the expression “on the Q.T.” (meaning “surreptitiously,” from the first and last letters of quiet), you find it from 1870 in a British broadside ballad, then attested from such writers as Joseph Conrad, Ezra Pound and Tom Wolfe, with stops along the way for the country singer Merle Travis and the pimp-turned-novelist Iceberg Slim.
But I wanted to see for myself; happily, OUP offered me temporary reviewer’s access, and I can report that it’s every bit as amazing as it’s cracked up to be. The first word it occurred to me to look up was gazabo, which I wrote about in a post from 2002; here’s the entry (http://www.greensdictionary.com/entry?entry=t329.e19308):
gazabo n.1 (also gazab, gazabe, gazaboo, gazaybo, gazeaboo, gazebo, gazebu, gazeebo, gazimbat, gazuny, gezeybo) [? Sp. gazapo, a sly fellow + SE gaze, i.e. their vacant stares] (Irish/US) an awkward, strange or stupid person; thus fem. gazaboine; also any fellow.
1889 in Amer. N&Q IV 53/1: Gazeebo […] Colloquially, it sometimes means a laughing stock, or a gazing stock. 1893 F.P. Dunne in Schaaf Mr Dooley’s Chicago (1977) 54: ‘What’s that?’ I says, pointin’ out a gazabo with long hair. ‘That’s Gilder,’ he says. ‘He’s a great pote.’ 1894 J. Frye Fables of Field and Staff 70: He’s a dam chump! […] he’s a reg’lar galvanized gazaboo, an’ nuttin’ else. 1896 Ade Artie (1963) 29: Who does I meet comin’ out o’ the house but a cheap gazabo. 1899 W.J. Kountz Billy Baxter’s Letters 50: A lot of these handsome gazabes go around looking wise, winning girls out, and thinking they are the happy thought. 1899–1900 C.L. Cullen Tales of the Ex-Tanks 130: It’s a pretty unsual thing for a man to be humiliated through no less a famous gazebu than William Shakespeare. 1900 A.H. Lewis ‘Mulberry Mary’ in Sandburrs 9: An’ says this gezeybo for a finish: ‘This Cleopatra was a wonder for looks’. 1902 ‘Billy Burgundy’ Toothsome Tales Told in Sl. 79: Feliz was a bright gazabo. 1902 E. Townsend Chimmie Fadden and Mr Paul 49: All de sneak woik against him was done by a man, de gazeaboo Metternich. 1902 F.P. Dunne Mr Dooley’s Opinions 111: I was r-readin’ th’ other day about a vote cast by a lot iv distinguished gazabs. 1902 ‘Hugh McHugh’ It’s Up to You 27: Isn’t she the wise little gazaboine, though? 1906 ‘Hugh McHugh’ Skidoo! 14: Two busy gazabes were discussing politics. 1907 B. Fisher A. Mutt in Blackbeard Compilation (1977) 3: A fellow what used to go with a sister of a man who is a half cousin to a gazabo who was a stable boy […]. 1909 Coshocton (OH) Daily Times 27 Aug. 8/7: That’s the way this Gazaboo knocked his town. 1914 Ade ‘The New Fable of the Private Agitator’ in Ade’s Fables 14: Money will creep out of the Yarn Stockings and a few Wise Gazabes will cop all the Plush. 1914 Jackson & Hellyer Vocab. Criminal Sl. 37: gazuny […] a man. 1914 Ade ‘The New Fable of the Wandering Boy’ in Ade’s Fables 120: He figured that a Gazimbat with a John C. Calhoun Forehead […] could break into almost any Reservoir of Culture. 1915 Wodehouse Psmith Journalist (1993) 304: Say, I got it in for dem gazebos, sure I have. 1918 R. Dirks ‘Hans und Fritz’ [comic strip] In all my life neffer I saw such a fresh gazabo. 1927 (con. 1900s) S. Lewis Elmer Gantry 23: I get so sick of that gosh-awful Weekly Bible Study — all about those holy old gazebos. 1929 S. Ornitz Haunch Paunch and Jowl 105: I’m waiting for a guy – gotta show it to him – Al Wolff, one wise gazabo. 1935 W. Smith Bessie Cotter 223: You’re one of those fresh gazebos. 1937 F. Gruber ‘Death on Eagle’s Crag’ in Goulart (1967) 178: I’m kinda curious to know which of you gazabos had the nerve to pull a job like this. 1941 J. Archibald ‘Dog Collared’ in Popular Detective Oct. [Internet] They sent Joe Stalin’s Number One gazabo up for fakin’ a passport. 1945 (con. 1900s) S. O’Casey Drums Under the Windows 200: Him? A dangerous gazebo, hot-foot after English money, that’s what he is. 1950 Goldin et al. DAUL 77/2: Gazabo. A man. 1983 W.F Marshall ‘The Runaway’ in Livin’ in Drumlister 76: Well, listen to this. / Yon hirplin’ gazaybo, yir father, / He’ll say nether ay, naw nor yis. 1994 (con. 1960s) G. Byrne Pictures in my Head 39: Now that gazebo with the beard is Castro, an awful bowsie.
I’d say the best way to describe it, and the highest praise I can offer, is to call it the OED of slang. I just hope my library has access so I can continue consulting it.