Green’s Dictionary of Slang Now Free.

A couple of years ago I posted that Green’s Dictionary of Slang was online: “Headword search, definitions, and etymologies are free; advanced search and supporting quotations are available to individuals by subscription at £49/year (currently about US$60).” Now, unfortunately for Jonathon Green but fortunately for the rest of us, he has announced that for lack of institutional support, he has decided to put the whole thing online gratis:

My initial aim was to offer the dictionary in two formats: one would be free and permitted users to see A [the word, its compounds, phrases and derivatives, plus all pertinent senses] + B [an etymology] and C [a definition]. For those who were willing to pay a subscription there would also be D [the illustrative citations that show a term’s historical development]. An update, including both new terms of slang (whether from the past or present) and new citations (which meant that subject to research the much-desired ‘first recorded use’ of a given term would be continually shifted backwards) was to be added every three months. […]

Two years into the project, and having no intention to abandon my researches, I have decided that the dictionary in its entirety – headwords, etymologies, definitions and citations – will henceforth be made available for free. I am grateful to those who have subscribed, and for those who wish, I shall repay whatever sums are outstanding as of the relaunch. I would ask only for a little time, since the new system must first be up and running. Your subscription will continue as is until then. […]

In an ideal or perhaps older world, the work might have gained institutional backing, the usual means being a publisher. But I have come long since to accept that no publisher, even including the one who (reluctantly, as they made clear) put out the print edition in 2010, feels that the work is of value or worth. No matter; death will see me off, dismissal will not. I have no choice but to continue alone and in so doing, what truly matters is visibility.

So ego, of course, enters the picture: one does the work, one wishes it to be seen and used.

Here‘s the website; use it with pleasure and gratitude.


  1. It’s good to have Green’s Dictionary of Slang (with updates) available online gratis. Thanks.
    The “Buckley’s chance” entry may merit a new look. A review of Green’s book Stories of Slang in The Times Literary Supplement, Feb. 16, 2018, p. 10 mentions two potential etymologies. Either from William Buckley, an escaped convict who somehow survived among the Australian Aborigines for decades. Or, later, Mars Buckley, a co-founder of Buckley and Nunn; TLS reported that Green prefers the latter. The pun Buckley or none was apparently a later adaptation to a preexisting collocation (here I agree with Ozwords April 2011 p. 7 online, revising the Oct. 2000 discussion). No chance at all is not the only definition of Buckley’s chance. It can mean quite a slim chance, a very long shot. In Trove [Australian] Newspapers (online) Green’s Dictionary here can be antedated to 1887. (Also there is a horse named Buckley’s chance in 1872, though that may be a coincidence.)
    William Buckley’s story, published (and reprinted) years after his rejoining the colonists, tells that he first happened upon a friendly group of Aborigines who fed and cared for him. Then, later, he took a spear from a burial, and when another group of Aborigines saw him, they–reportedly–thought he was in effect that man returned. Whatever the veracity of those details, he surely was away for many years, and his story lends plausibility to surviving despite perceived long odds. But maybe further antedatings will be found.

  2. J.W. Brewer says

    “Buckley’s chance” sounds like obvious Cockney rhyming slang for . . . for . . . well, some randomly-chosen word ending with -ance other than “chance” itself. If usage doesn’t fit this theory, let usage evolve until it does.

  3. John Cowan says

    Miles Vorkosigan (who is slender) and his brother Mark (who is not) were once referred to as “the Chance brothers, Slim and Fat”.

    As for Mr. Green, death will not release him (even if he dies). The Internet Archive is maintaining its copy of his site and can be expected to continue to do so, now that the site is fully open, thanks to dpk’s fortunate decision to make it browseable as well as searchable.

  4. Again, thanks to Jonathon Green for making his Dictionary of Slang (with updates) online and open access.
    His entry for hobo (2, a tramp, a vagrant,….) has 1888 as the earliest quotation. Here’s an earlier use.
    St. Paul daily globe. (Saint Paul, Minn.) 1884-1896
    November 30, 1885, Page 8, col. 1, Image 9 (Am. Historical Newsp.)

    The Hobo, the “Workers,” the Crook and Tramp at home–Their Slang and Their
    Something About Their Most Salient Characteristics–How They Act and Talk
    THE “HOBO”
    The genus tramp, i.e., the “bum” or “Hobo” is usually made up of a
    conglomeration of human outcasts….
    ….An overcoat is a “Ben.” Hobo is a call to attract attention, the same as
    Hello in the average citizen’s vernacular. It is pronounced with the
    long sound of the vowel, o, in both syllables, and is sometimes uttered with the aspirate
    omitted, as “Obo,” and is the shibboleth of the fraternity of bums and crooks.
    It is now commonly applied by them as a generic term to designate the order.
    Hence “Hobo,” when used in a substantative sense, means tramp or crook, as the
    case may be. For instance, when one says “That man is a Hobo,” he means tramp
    or crook….. [col. 2]…further particulars will be postponed until another
    issue of The Globe. Rhue Saga.

  5. Green’s Dictionary of Slang for hoodlum n. 1 (an unpleasant person or a street ruffian) gives 1871 as the earliest quote. Here’s an earlier one. What surprised me is that this, reportedly, was a *self-designation.*

    1866 _San Francisco Evening Bulletin_ 14 Dec. 5 (America’s Historical Newspapers) We yesterday mentioned the arrest of five boys who have been committing petty thefts for some days past. … It is doubtful if any thieves ever did a more driving business than these young fellows, for all of their plunder has been stolen since last Saturday night. They call themselves the “Hoodlum Band,” and unless their thieving propensities are nipped in the bud, the reputation of Orliniski will fade before that of a “Hoodlum.” … Among other exploits of the “Hoodlums” was the stealing of a lot of keys from the pockets of a clerk in an office on Montgomery street, to enter the office and unlock and rob the safe of $2 in silver.

  6. Well, outlaws have traditionally enjoyed giving themselves fearsome names. (And remember, to live outside the law, you must be honest.)

  7. I notice also the usage of a lot of keys, which seems to mean not “many keys” (as we would say now), but a unit made out of smaller units. This is OED sense 15, not 18, and though OED gives examples up to year 2000, the specific combination a lot of doesn’t make an appearance in the sense 15 after the 1789 quote of Bentham:
    “On the one hand a lot of punishment is a lot of pain; on the other hand the profit of an offence is a lot of pleasure.”
    Which, I would say, more properly fits under the sense 18. Before that, there is 1710 quote
    “I have given my self some Time to find out, how distinguishing the Frays in a Lot of Muslins, […]”

  8. Probably because it would be ambiguous in writing after a lot of ‘a large number of’ becomes prevalent.

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