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

the acknowledgments.

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!


Volume III will be essential, too...