Oxford University Press has put online a long and fascinating interview (pdf file; HTML cache here) with J.L. Lighter, compiler of the indispensible and happily revived Historical Dictionary of American Slang (which he’s been working on since he left high school). As the introduction puts it:
The best news of the year for word buffs, amateur etymologists, professional linguists, and all who respond to the incredible richness of the American language is that J. E. Lighter has found a home for his Historical Dictionary of American Slang.
When Random House published the first two volumes of this dictionary, covering letters A through O, in 1994 and 1997, critics reached for such terms as definitive, absolutely outstanding, and landmark publication. Nevertheless, the publisher abandoned the project when it was only half-completed, leaving the author and his dictionary in publishing limbo—and his many fans aghast…
Not to have completed this work beyond the letter O would have been a tremendous loss to American cultural history as well as to lexicography. But now Oxford University Press has come to the rescue; a contract has just been signed to carry the project right on through Z. Fortunately, J. (for Jonathan) E. Lighter, the research associate in the English Department at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, had persevered, and currently he is deep into the S’s—a big letter, one that accounts for about 10 percent of the pages in most dictionaries. Oxford expects to bring out volume three of the Historical Dictionary of American Slang in 2006.
The interview is full of great nuggets about words like goon, cowpoke (which, contrary to the OED and all other sources, is not attested until the 1920s), and occupy (“During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, occupy was used so frequently as a euphemism for sexual intercourse that writers stopped using it in its primary sense”). Thanks go, as so often, to aldiboronti at Wordorigins for the link.