Like the flesh-and-blood humans whose uncensored emotions it represents, slang's obsessions are sex, the body and its functions, and intoxication: drink and drugs. Slang does not do kind. It's about hatreds - both intimate and national - about the insults that follow on, the sneers and the put-downs. Caring, sharing and compassion? Not at this address. There are over 10,000 terms focusing on sex, but love? Not one.
Jonathon Green, aka 'Mr Slang', has drawn on the 600,000-plus citations that make up his magisterial Green's Dictionary of Slang (published 2010, and now available online) to tell some of slang's most entertaining stories. Categories range from The Body to Pulp Diction, via multicultural London English and pun-tastic gems.
Mostly gazing up from the gutter, slang, perhaps surprisingly, also embraces the stars. These stories may look at drunken sailors, dubious doctors, and a shelf of dangerously potent cocktails, but slang does class acts as well. None more so than Shakespeare. Devotee of the double entendre, master of the pun, and the first to put nearly 300 slang terms in print.
'Shakespeare, uses, at my count, just over 500 "slang" terms, of which 277 are currently the first recorded use of a given term. Among these are the beast with two backs, every mother's son, fat-headed, heifer (for woman), pickers and stealers (hands), small beer (insignificant matters), what the dickens, and many more.'