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 (

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.


  1. Why are things like Q.T. capitalised, is there a reason? IIRC, it’s getting more common too.

  2. Huh, I would have guessed that q was from “quiet” and t from something else. Maybe “time”?
    things like Q.T. capitalised
    What’s a similar example?

  3. IIRC. It stands for “if I recall correctly”.

  4. Not that it’s new. INRI, or the Jesuits’ IHS for instance, are common old Christian examples.

  5. Maybe everyone thinks it’s posher: like SPQR.

  6. marie-lucie says:

    I don’t remember ever encountering this word, but obviously I am not familiar with the relevant literature. Does it occur earlier or later than gazebo “small, light construction with no particular purpose except perhaps gazing at the sunset”?

  7. John Emerson says:

    M-L, you really should be nicer to gazebos.

  8. Gazebo goes back to the mid-eighteenth century.

  9. Oh, good heavens, that makes sense of Dink Stover’s address to his pals at their Old Campus window (in _Stover at Yale_) — “Stick out your head, you old gazebo!” (Borrowed, in a mix of the earnest and the ironic, by a few freshmen of 1979 whom I will refrain from naming.) I never thought to wonder.

  10. bud driver says:

    In 1950′s Texas, I worked for a farmer who referred to me as “jazbo” when he was none too impressed with something I had done. I was the usual clumsy teenager and the definition would seem to fit gazabo,etc.

  11. The appearance of jasbo / jazzbo suggests that it may just be jazz+bo, though that is by no means certain.

  12. narrowmargin says:

    INRI = Iron Nails Ran In

  13. QT is capitalized for the same reason IIRC is; in order to signal an acronym so we readers know not to try to read it as a word.
    Word – Duh.
    Acronym – JK (just kidding).

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