Doofus /Historical Slang

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Thu Jun 19 23:21:44 UTC 2003

    My particular perspective on historical slang-lexicography is that
of a researcher whose work (and that which I edit) will be drawn upon
by lexicographers. And I certainly see such lexicography as a valid
endeavor, providing compiled material for further detailed slang

   Here's one example. I spent some six years (not full time) working
on the origin of the term "shyster." The earliest attestations
(1843-1844) of the term were drawn to my attention by librarian Roger
Mohovich, and those attestations opened the way to discovering the
whole story behind the origin of term.

     I wrote two monographs on the term and over the years followed
this up with several articles (some material was provided by Barry
Popik).  In the first of the monographs I include (among other
things) a list of all the early attestations, permitting a close look
at the early history of the
term. I also of course provide an overall view of what happened.

     This material can now be used by lexicographers, just as Allen
Walker Read's detailed study of "O.K." can be used. Other examples
(just a few of many): "hot dog", "The Big Apple," "dude."

    Jonathan Lighter's _Historical Dictionary of American Slang_ is a
significant compilation of material. It will no doubt be improved as
further research into slang origins is conducted, but meanwhile the
news of its continued publication is cause for rejoicing.

Gerald Cohen

>At 5:49 PM -0400 6/19/03, Fred Shapiro wrote:
>I agree wholeheartedly with Jonathon Green's response to Frank Abate's
>dismissal of the whole enterprise of historical lexicography of slang.
>I'll state my feelings very briefly:  Yes, slang lexicography lags behind
>the oral origins of most slang, but early printed citations still shed
>significant light on those origins and are a lot better than nothing. ...

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