African-American slang cuts through logic and arrives at a quick, efficient interpretive solution to situations and things otherwise difficult to articulate. This reference book looks at the dazzling spectrum of this vibrant, humorous language, selecting and presenting over 2000 slang words and phrases, giving definitions and dates of origin.
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Slang is a means of distinguishing between us and them--in this case, the "homies" (defined here) and the larger, often unfriendly, world. Although slang is an attempt to separate a group, its terms are picked up by outsiders and altered as needed. Sometimes, as in the case of the term uptight--which went from meaning "good sex" to having a "mental or emotional disorder"--it undergoes a complete change of meaning. This dictionary may not make it possible to communicate with today's "gangstas" (a term that does not appear in the book) or "rappers" (which does), but it will assist those who encounter such terms in black authors or on TV. Major is a novelist and poet and the author of The Dictionary of African-American Slang (1970), on which this book is based.
A brief explanatory note describes the entries, the cultures from which they arose, and geographic areas of use, which are coded in the entries. Major lists his sources and uses a simple code in entries to refer back to the source. Thus, the source for cogs, a 1930s Harlem term for sunglasses, can be traced to two books by Cab Calloway. Sources range from Flexner's I Hear American Talking to Zora Neale Hurston's novels, newspaper articles, and the novels of Donald Goines. All entries note the decade in which the word was first used, and most have an example sentence.
Major's claim for the exclusivity of some of his terms is weak. Duking as a term for fist-fighting is not uniquely black. (See Jonathon Green, The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, p.83.) Gaspers as a synonym for cigarettes appears frequently in P. G. Wodehouse and is cited in The Oxford English Dictionary as far back as 1914.
This book reflects the varied worlds of black slang from the witty 1940s phrase "straight up six o'clock girl" for a very thin woman to the grim euphemism "dime bag" for $10 worth of marijuana or morphine. There is plenty of prison, drug, and crime slang, with words and phrases to offend every sensibility. This dictionary will be a useful addition to any public or academic library and a necessary purchase for any special collection on African Americans or slang and unconventional English.From Library Journal:
In this work, Major revises his earlier Dictionary of Afro-American Slang ( LJ 2/1/71) to include current and historical slang. This dictionary is a comprehensive study covering use by gangs, musicians, prisoners, and pimps and prostitutes; in street culture and youth culture; and in all geographic areas. Some of the newer entries include "divine rights" (what South Central L.A. teens call the police) and "be out" (a statement of support). Among older entries are "flyer with the roof slightly higher" (a stetson hat) and "soon-man" (an early riser). Arranged in alphabetical order, definitions are followed by use and origin references that are coded according to an elaborate and, at times, cumbersome abbreviation system. Nevertheless, this work is a solid reference source that belongs in every library. Highly recommended.
- Neal Wyatt, Mary Washington Coll. Lib., Fredericksburg, Va.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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