The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

How about a reverse ‘Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang’?

I’ve found Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang to be a wonderful resource. I have a paper copy near my desk. Yet it fails me when I want a slang word but I don’t have a clue what it is. Thanks to Google’s court-approved plagiarism, I sometimes come across a partly searchable copy of the book on line based on my search engine queries.

cassellsWhen teachers first introduced us to dictionaries in grade school, many of us asked what good are they if you don’t already know how to spell the word? We were told we could get reasonably close to the correct spelling by looking up the incorrect spelling we’d been using, and (hence) discover the correct spelling.

Fortunately, one can type almost any word into a Google search engine box and learn how to spell it and what it means.

I want something like that for Cassell’s.

The dictionary is great–and very thorough–if you know a slang word and want to check its meaning and when it came into use. Where the paper copy fails, is if you want to know, say, the slang version of a regular word that was being used at a certain time by everyone or by a specific group of people.

I can find some things on the web, but their value has been random.

While writing Conjure Woman’s Cat, I frequently wanted to ask “what slang word was used by hippies or African Americans in the 1950s that meant, say, liar.” Cassell’s is no help here because its entries are listed by the slang word rather than by the period they were in vogue or who used them.

I was a kid in the 1950s. I remember some of the slang, but memory begins to fail me after all this time and I don’t want my characters using the words incorrectly or ten years before those words arrived on the scene.

Since I’m unaware of an online version of Cassell’s that lets me search for words by meaning, ethnic group, and period of use, I hope one day the publisher will get around to creating an app for this rather like the reverse telephone look-up app.

Until then, it often takes many hours finding the slang I need. This is one of the perils, I suppose, in writing fiction set in another era.


KIndle cover 200x300SarabandeCover2015Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat” (magical realism) and “Sarabande” (contemporary fantasy).


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