Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online.

John Cowan writes in a new comment to this 2010 thread:

The Internet works in mysterious ways its wonders to perform, and some news is good news.

After They Who Shall Not Be Named reneged on their promise to make GDoS searchable with a “We won’t do it: sue us if you dare”, Green was left with the digital database rights but nothing to do with them. Academia and industry alike turned him down with “What’s in it for me?” He tried hiring programmers, but the ask (“megabucks”) was beyond his means. Finally, David Kendall offered to do the work gratis, just because it needed to be done (dpk is a student of historical linguistics as well as a programmer) and today is 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). Institutional subscriptions are also possible: rates on request.

I have a subscription (it would be a solecism to assert that this has any connection with my occasional IRC conversations with dpk over the years) and will be pleased to look up anything that other Hattics can’t get for themselves.

This Is Good, as they say. Thanks, JC (and of course JG)!


  1. What a wretched story! But the ending is a happy one:

    Like many writers looking for exposure, I had signed up for Twitter. In April 2014 a tweet appeared; I had no idea of the poster, I could not resist the content: ‘Do you want to put the dictionary online?’ ‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘Would you like me to do it?’ ‘Yes please. How much?’ ‘Nothing. The work should be there.’ This was a relief: I have no funds and other programmers – I had approached several – had demanded megabucks. We met. The sender was a twenty-year-old programmer, David Kendal. He was impressively knowledgeable, not only of programming but of the possibilities for putting it to lexicographical use. We made a deal. I turned over the data, he set to work. What followed was not always simple nor smooth, but the task advanced. The three volumes of print, much augmented, and with the potential for regular improvement, emerged in digital form.

  2. I went there a while back to check the etymology of ofay ‘a usu. derog. term for a white person’. I’d read various explanations in various semi-authoritative sources. This is what Green writes:

    [ety. unknown. Links to Fr. au fait, aware, have been dismissed (though Cohen (ed.), Studies in Slang (1997), sees this as the proper ety.), and doubts are also cast on Yoruba ofe, ‘a charm that lets one jump so high as to disappear’, thus trouble (the cause of such vanishing), thus a white man (the essence of trouble); note Mezzrow & Wolfe, Really the Blues (1946): ‘Ofay, of course, is pig Latin for foe.’ (Cohen rejects this – ‘there is no indication of blacks ever engaging in the Pig Latin type of word play’); the ety. suggested in cit. 1928 has not been offered elsewhere]

    Green is the only source I know that mentions all these proposed etymologies. What I especially admire is that he rejects them all, and lets the final explanation remain unknown rather than choose a bad one. True scholarly integrity.

    (P.S. John, what is his cit. 1928?)

  3. Z’par servu.

    1928 [U.S. flag icon] R. Fisher Walls Of Jericho 6: Darkey’s gonna move in there to-morrer an fays jes’ ain’t gon’ stand fo’ it. [Ibid.] 299: fay, ofay: a person who, as far is known, is white. Fay is said to be the original term and ofay a contraction of ‘old’ and ‘fay’.

  4. Thank you, kind sir.

  5. So if fay is original, and ofay is a contraction from old fay, then all the proposed etymologies based on ofay shrivel into dust.

  6. In the OED ofay first appears in 1898, fay not until 1927, and is presumed to be an abbreviation of the former.

  7. …on the other hand, the two early OED refs, from 1898 and 1899, are from the same source, The Freeman of Indianapolis. The next quotation is from 1925, very near the first fay. So but for that one lucky early source, the two words are about coeval.

    1898: “‘Ofay’ Brooks sends regards to ‘Snapper’ Edmonds.” 1899: “London Letter… All the boys seem to like this side of th water… ‘Jiw-wauks’ are scarce, but ‘O-fays’ are plentiful.”

  8. If there is anywhere to set this small bit of the record straight, if only for the sake of personal modesty, this seems as good a place as any.

    While I am grateful to Jonathon for his flattering depiction of me as asking nothing in exchange for considerable work (despite the possible less flattering implication of naïvety), our agreement from our very earliest discussions was that I would do the work in my own time and if he ever made any money from it — by selling it to a publisher, we hoped — he could pay me a share then. What is true is that I have treated it (and often referred to it as) a pro bono project.

    So I do have my own small financial interest in the dictionary website, as attempts even to sell a completed website to publishers failed and independent publishing turned out to be the only way to go. It gives me the ability to spend a limited amount of time per week continuing to improve the website but I do not expect it to make me a living by any means.

    I am also thankful to John Cowan and all those who have shared the news and provided valuable feedback since the launch. There is much we still want to do with the dictionary website and this is only the beginning — I hope we can continue to please people this much as we continue to develop the site.

  9. Thanks very much for that explanation, and heaven knows you deserve every cent you get from this worthwhile project!

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