RANDOM HOUSE HISTORICAL DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN SLANG, H-O
by Jonathan Lighter
$65, 736 pages
Simon & Schuster (Random House! Just kidding!), 1997
Another confession: some of my stuff is in this work, and my name is in
This is obviously an important and major work, the second volume to be
published. My complaints are more about what this is not than what it is.
David Shulman objects to the number of citations after what he considers
the first and most valuable ones. However, I'm not upset by TOO MANY
citations--better than too few! Another person on this list commented that
Lighter uses responses from students at the University of Tennessee (where
he's based); again, if there are many citations, I don't have a problem with
Obviously, I could quibble all day about individual citations. The most
egregious was when I saw that "jinx" is derived from "jynx." As I posted
here a few months ago, it comes from "jinks" and the popular 19th century
song "Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines." I'm gonna pretend I didn't see
that. "Hotlanta" is here, but I've posted an earlier citation. My new stuff
on "Show Me" is not here in the "Missouri" entry. "Hot diggety" is credited
to TAD from 1923, but I have it in 1906. There are many other little stuff.
There's a large entry for "Motherfucker." The first volume took a lot of
hits for "fuck" and other such entries. I don't mind curse words. I can't
say that I'm overly interested in the historical uses of every kind of curse,
but there's room here for them (unlike, perhaps, other works).
The big entries here are "O.K.," "jazz," "nigger," and a few others.
Some entries will probably be a little difficult to read ("hobo" and
"ho-boy," for example).
Overall, of course, it's an important reference work.
My biggest criticism is what it's not. What I want is a super book or
source for the American language, and this is not that book. It's a book of
SLANG, not a book of AMERICANISMS nor a book of ENGLISH WORDS.
Many words and names are not here. For example, I was stunned when the
first volume had "Big Apple" but not "Gotham." The second volume has "hot
dog" and also "hamburger," BUT ONLY THE SLANG USES OF HAMBURGER.
In other words, the RH HDAS supplements DARE and DA and DAE and OED, but
doesn't render them obsolete.
Also, this is a book. By the time slang books are published, it's old
What's needed is a computer database of the American and/or English
language that's constantly updated and combines the books I've just
mentioned. I want to type in "New York--1920s" and I want a group of words
and phrases that would be used at that place and time.
I want a big computer database! I don't want 1,000 books!
I WANT TO CLEAN THIS APARTMENT!
Volume III will be essential, too...