Francis Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue is a dictionary of slang words, first published in 1785. Grose was one of the first lexicographers to collect slang words from all corners of society, not just from the professional underworld of pickpockets and bandits.
While The Vulgar Tongue includes many of the words found in earlier 'scoundrels'' dictionaries (such as Richard Head's Canting Academy), it also lists a whole range of mundane slang words such as sheepish (for ‘bashful’), carrots (for ‘red hair’) and sweet (for ‘expert, dexterous, clever’), as well as many nicknames for food and drink. Words for gin – an enormously popular drink at the time – include blue ruin, cobblers punch, crank, diddle, frog's wine, heart's ease, lightening and drain. Grose records plenty of rude words from the period, too, such as bum fodder (for ‘toilet paper’) and double jugg (for a man's bottom).
Grose and his assistant Tom Cocking took midnight walks through London, picking up slang words in slums, drinking dens and dockyards and adding them to their 'knowledge-box'. The Vulgar Tongue was recognised throughout the 19th century as one of the most important collections of slang in the English language, and it would strongly influence later dictionaries of this kind.
- Article by:
- David Crystal
- Language and ideas
David Crystal looks past the myths surrounding Samuel Johnson's Dictionary to discover a work of remarkable precision, sensitivity and attention to social and regional variation.