[Ads-l] _beatnik_: interdating

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Sun Aug 16 03:07:47 UTC 2015

On Sat, Aug 15, 2015 at 10:43 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:
> Ebony - May 1960 - Page 63
> https://books.google.com/books?id=QoVz2rpp-skC
> _Beatnik_ Dictionary
> The Official Handbook
> For Everyone In Orbit
> Packed with words and phrases straight
> from infinity. A perfect novelty gift.
> Send One Skin (1.00)
> To: Kimbrough Pub. Co., Dept. E
> 4639 Poplar Ave., Memphis, Tenn.

Haven't seen this, but Tom Dalzell mentions it in his chapter on "The
Beat Counterculture" in _Flappers 2 Rappers: American Youth Slang_:

Works that directly address the language of the Beats include
_Swinging Syllables: Beatnik Dictionary_ (Memphis, Tennessee:
Kimbrough Publishing, 1959) and the nearly identical _Beat Talk_
(Tulsa, Oklahoma: Studio Press, 1960).

The book (or pamphlet) was self-published by Thomas C. Kimbrough.
Here's his son R. Keller Kimbrough, who is an Asian literature
professor at Univ. of Colorado Boulder, talking about his father's
work on the Premodern Japanese Studies listserv:

Incidentally, regarding "usage" as an issue in lexicography, in 1959
my father compiled and sold a small, pamphlet-like dictionary called
the "Swinging Syllables Beatnik Dictionary."  He advertised it in
Playboy Magazine and sold copies through the mail for $1 each.  I
mentioned to him a couple of years ago that his humble dictionary was
recently cited in a scholarly dictionary of American slang.  He
thought that was pretty funny, because, as he said, since he wasn't a
beatnik and he didn't know enough beatnik slang to fill out a
dictionary, he supplemented his "research" with a bunch of words and
phrases that sounded to him like things that beatniks might say.
(There weren't any beatniks in Memphis, Tennessee in 1959, so he had
to be creative.)  But his dictionary turned out to be a minor
best-seller (much to the chagrin of his father, who liked to emphasize
the importance of an honest day's work), and many of his newly coined
phrases no doubt caught on with aspiring counterculturists.  Regarding
usage, then, his dictionary seems to have been both descriptive and
prescriptive.  But then again, isn't that the case with all

Presumably he's referring to Dalzell and Victor's _New Partridge
Dictionary of Slang_, which cites the work in several entries.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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