August 26th, 2015

July - Dog Days

Ah, how we love them: movieland’s Lassie and Rinty, the Famous Five’s Timmy and the Outlaws’ Jumble, Tintin’s Snowy and Dorothy’s Toto, rancid Gaspode and prim Missis, noble Gelert and ever-attendant Bobby. Even Bullseye of Bill Sikes fame. See them rescue the hapless infant, see them adventure with plucky youngsters, see them savage innocent orphans, see them, yes it’s Bobby again, wait in vain. Woof-woof!

Slang, as ever, is less forgiving. The dog (see also mutt, cur, pooch and similar less than flattering synonyms) stands among the counter-language’s most well-used animals. But it’s like some linguistic version of vivisection: nary a pat, nary a stroke or kind word. These are not our best friends. Far from it. They poop, but we do not scoop. Bad dog!

And even by the standard of slang’s crowded pet shop (see cats and rats for instance), there are an awful lot of bad dogs on offer. If we include the phrases, compounds, derivatives and the rest of the linguistic mongrels that take their ancestry from the basic three letters, the word dog offers some 161 definitions. (And that’s not to mention those ‘dogs’ that are actually ‘gods’, as in such exclamations as dogdamn it! and dog blind me!, though who’s to say quite what’s happening with dog bite my ear! and as for dog my onions!. . .) It is impressive – not many words can mean (among so much else) a penis, an informer, miserliness and a cross-country bus – but it remains a grim picture.

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Argotopolis: The Map of London Slang

June 14th, 2015

I am pleased to announce the launch of a new project Argotopolis: the Map of London Slang. This is the product of a collaboration with the artist Adam Dant, images of whose remarkable cartography, and much more, can be found here: Our map, which features a wide range of the slang that has been generated by London and its many social ‘tribes’, can be found here: or here:

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Timeline Tumblr

May 29th, 2015

All the Timelines of Slang can be found here:

This is an on-going project, and new ones will be added as and when I make them.

The most recent timelines deal with Oaths:


Terms of Dismissal (‘I don’t care’, ‘Go away’, ‘Nonsense!’ etc.):

They will be added to the tumblr asap.

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H.L. Mencken: Where is the Graveyard of Dead Gods?

January 11th, 2015

The great Henry Louis Mencken, atheist, sceptic, critic and commentator wrote this in 1922, entitled Memorial Service. Other than the unfortunate use of ‘savage’ (but Mencken would have no more bowed to political correctness, had he encountered it, than to any other manifestation of the ‘booboisie’), and some references to then contemporary Americans, I am hard put to see a word out of place. 

Where is the graveyard of dead gods? What lingering mourner waters their mounds? There was a time when Jupiter was the king of the gods, and any man who doubted his puissance was ipso facto a barbarian and an ignoramus.  But where in all the world is there a man who worships Jupiter today? And who of Huitzilopochtli? In one year – and it is no more than  five  hundred years ago – 50,000 youths and maidens were slain in sacrifice to him. Today, if he is remembered at all, it is only by some vagrant savage in  the depths of the Mexican forest. Huitzilopochtli, like many other gods, had  no human father; his mother was a virtuous widow; he was born of an apparently innocent flirtation that she carried out with the sun. When he frowned, his father, the sun, stood still.  When he roared with rage, earthquakes engulfed whole cities. When he thirsted he was watered with 10,000 gallons of human blood. But today Huitzilopochtli is as magnificently  forgotten as Allen G. Thurman. Once the peer of Allah, Buddha and Wotan, he  is now the peer of Richmond P. Hobson, Alton B. Parker, Adelina Patti,  General Weyler and Tom Sharkey.

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New Timeline

September 3rd, 2014

Just added a new slang timeline to the selection. This time it’s Mental Instability:

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