Slang, like everything else, changes much in the course of time; and though but fifteen years have elapsed since this Dictionary was first introduced to the public, alterations have since then been many and frequent in the subject of which it treats. The first issue of a work of this kind is, too, ever beset with difficulties, and the compiler was always aware that, though under the circumstances of its production the book was an undoubted success, it necessarily lacked many of the elements which would make that success lasting, and cause the “Slang Dictionary” to be regarded as an authority and a work of reference not merely among the uneducated, but among people of cultivated tastes and inquiring minds. For though the vulgar use of the word Slang applies to those words only which are used by the dangerous classes and the lowest grades of society, the term has in reality, and should have—as every one who has ever studied the subject knows—a much wider significance. Bearing this in mind, the original publisher of this Dictionary lost no opportunity
of obtaining information of a useful kind, which could hardly find place in any other book of reference, with the intention of eventually bringing out an entirely new edition, in which all former errors should be corrected and all fresh meanings and new words find a place. His intention always was to give those words which are familiar to all conversant with our colloquialisms and locutions, but which have hitherto been connected with an unwritten tongue, a local habitation, and to produce a book which, in its way, would be as useful to students of philology, as well as to lovers of human nature in all its phases, as any standard work in the English language. The squeamishness which tries to ignore the existence of slang fails signally, for not only in the streets and the prisons, but at the bar, on the bench, in the pulpit, and in the Houses of Parliament, does slang make itself heard, and, as the shortest and safest means to an end, understood too.
My predecessor, the original compiler, did not live to see his wish become an actual fact; and, failing him, it devolved upon me to undertake the task of revision and addition. How far this has been accomplished, the curious reader who is possessed of a copy of each edition can best judge for himself by comparing any couple of pages he may select. Of my own share in the work I wish to say nothing, as I have mainly benefited by the labours of others; but I may say
that, when I undertook the position of editor of what, with the smallest possible stretch of fancy, may now be called a new book, I had no idea that the alteration would be nearly so large or so manifest. However, as the work is now done, it will best speak for itself, and, as good wine needs no bush, I will leave it, in all hope of their tenderness, to those readers who are best qualified to say how the task has been consummated.
In conclusion, it is but fair for me to thank, as strongly as weak words will permit, those gentlemen who have in various ways assisted me. To two of them, who are well known in the world of literature, and who have not only aided me with advice, but have placed many new words and etymologies at my service, I am under particular obligation. With this I beg to subscribe myself, the reader’s most obedient servant,
December 20, 1873.
Note.—The reader will bear in mind that this is a Dictionary of modern Slang,—a list of colloquial words and phrases in present use,—whether of ancient or modern formation. Whenever Ancient is appended to a word, it means that the expression was in respectable use in or previous to the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Old or Old English, affixed to a word, signifies that it was in general use as a proper expression in or previous to the reign of Charles II. Old Cant indicates that the term was in use as a Cant word during or before the same reign.
The Publishers will be much obliged by the receipt of any cant, slang, or vulgar words not mentioned in the Dictionary. The probable origin, or etymology, of any fashionable or unfashionable vulgarism, will also be received with thanks.