Wednesday, June 24, 2009

24th & Lexicon

A great cleaning and reordering of the bedroom results in the unearthing of some books I haven’t seen in a while. Selections from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary (1755) and The Vulgar Tongue, a 1785 collection of slang and underworld jargon.

Some examples, Johnson first;
consumer, one that spends, wastes, or destroys; clotpoll, thickskull, blockhead; fugh, an expression of abhorrence; jogger, one who moves heavily and dully; saucebox, an impertinent or petulant fellow.

Francis Grose’s Vulgar Tongue naturally includes plenty of words for sex, drugs, and scatology, but here are some of the cleaner ones: cheese toaster, sword; fart catcher, valet or footman; flash the hash, vomit; minor clergy, young chimney sweeps; puddings, guts.

Both Johnson and Grose have punk, a prostitute. This is an interesting example of a word’s evolution. By the early 20th century, a punk was a male homosexual of the bottom variety, hence Elisha Cook Jr.’s Wilmer's goat being got by Bogie’s Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon. By the 1970s, most of the sexual connotations have worn off, but not all, if we remember Dirty Harry’s taunting. Dirty’s big-gun masculinity, fascist at heart, was counterpoised against the hippies, who were too femme for Nixon’s “silent majority”; interestingly, the musical/cultural punks of the late 1970s, who pretty much still own the lion’s share of the word today, were avowedly anti-hippie, too. Curious that they should peak during the acid reign of Reagan, who inherited Nixon’s night-riding legions, and, notably, freely quoted Dirty’s “make my day.”

No comments: