The University of Tennessee researcher who compiled a popular new
dictionary of American slang hopes his work will make slang a more serious
area of academic study.
Jonathan Lighter, a research associate in UT's English department, compiled
the new Random House Dictionary of American Slang.
The dictionary covers letters A-G and is the first of three volumes to be
published by 1997. It has received positive reviews in Time, U.S. News &
World Report, and The New York Times.
"One of my goals really was to bring attention to the slang vocabulary as
an object of serious study," Lighter said. "That was not a fully formed
goal when I started, but over the years it became inevitable as one of the
things I was seeking to do."
Lighter said prominent poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. called slang "both a
sign and symptom of mental atrophy."
The term first was used in the 1750s to describe uneducated conversation,
and dictionary makers, or lexicographers, have openly disapproved of slang,
Modern day changes in society, however, have altered the use, perceptions
and significance of slang, he said.
"Since 1920, there has been a revolution in communications technology and
the informality of written English in the media. More slang is coming to
the attention of people like me than would have come to the attention of
people like, say, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes," Lighter said.
"The media allows for a wide dissemination of slang on a previously
impossible scale. That makes more people interested in studying it."
Lighter said U.S. population growth since the 1650s -- from 50,000 to more
than 250 million -- has tremendously impacted language.
"You have an incredible growth in population and a simultaneous growth in
the way people interact: more social networks, more ways for them to
communicate, and more likelihood that they will communicate," Lighter
UT researcher makes slang 'right on'
Published: Fri Jul 08, 1994 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 12:44 p.m.