Informal musings on the genesis of A Dictionary of Rhyming Slangs
The genetic traces of this proud dictionary are there to see in every line and fold of a family tree that rustles and quivers beneath a wind-blown canopy of the great and the grand, parents, aunts and uncles. Each branch, twig and shoot of our peculiar language tree throws shade. Trees. A family of trees. This book is an orchard of Rhyming Slangs.
Let’s see if I can extend the well-timbered metaphor just one step further…
In my imagination, as Antonio Lillo and I were creating A Dictionary of Rhyming Slangs, we were picking our way across an impressively, improperly carpeted forest floor. We took our own sweet sylvan time, pausing to look up at the sometimes forbidding, tangled, dappled growth as we tried to make a dictionary-ordered sense of the intrinsically wild.
&, yes, it is conventional practice to modestly insist that any and all academic, artistic or scientific achievement exist because the authors of works have been standing on the shoulders of giants.
Except Oasis, obviously.
In the course of compiling our dictionary we stood on some auspicious shoulders, no question, in order to reach the higher hanging fruit. And we understood others. Unlike Oasis, however, we did take great care not to misquote.
‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ Isaac Newton, 1675
& Lillo & Victor are rhyming slang tree-huggers rooting around and catching splinters. Is ‘tree-huggers’ rhyming slang? Look it up. A Dictionary of Rhyming Slangs is available now. Order online or support your local bookshop. Enough said.
A dictionary doesn’t just fall into shape. In other words you don’t just start at A and hope for the best. Once you commence work on a project like this you are in it for the long haul.
And, like inveterate smokers persuading doctors of healthy attitudes and best behaviours, we underestimated our addiction. ‘Maybe four, four and a half thousand headwords tops,’ we claimed, ‘no, no more than that. Two years, that should do it.’ The kind and generous publisher with whom we had engaged wisely rounded-up and allowed us extra time.
&, by dint of bloody-mindedness, we more-or-less (a little bit more and quite a lot less) met the agreed totals. But by then it had become apparent to us that we had merely scratched at the surface of our forest floor. In fact, as we reached the two-year-mark many of the more famous items in rhyming slang vocabularies were not yet included in our rapidly expanding database. We proudly rejected a kind and generous offer to publish online and it all proved too much for the hard-back needs of our then-publisher.
By then we were lost in the enchanting forest.
As the dictionary grew bigger and stronger, and conquered inevitable ups and downs, we searched for a new publisher to foster our labour of love. By the three-year-stage the Lillo & Victor work-in-progress was more comprehensive than any previous volume of rhyming slang, or lexicographer had allowed and still we drudged humbly ever onward.
In good time, after a period of labour that lasted more-or-less (more! not less) than five years, we have proudly parented a dictionary. Our publishers, De Gruyter, have midwifed an extraordinary book. A DICTIONARY OF RHYMING SLANGS was published in early August 2017. 1350 pages! Honestly, I wonder how many actual trees were sacrificed to make our many leaved dictionary a physical thing.
You’ll find the serious dictionary discussions and stuff in that mighty tome’s Introduction. This brief blog is really about perspective and how it feels right now.
Also, a more scholarly, less personal blog is in preparation and will duly appear in all the right corners of academia.
I was away from my home and office, wearing a different hat and sunglasses, when A Dictionary of Rhyming Slangs emerged blinking into the day, boldly stepping beyond the forest’s edge. I was up at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, way too far out to see the wood for the trees. Instead, I got photos: the book posing saucily on my desk in Wales, flaunting itself in Spain. Three weeks passed before I had a copy in my hands.
Ah, I remember that moment…
Carefully, I slit the protective plastic wrapping, opened the cover and riffled the pages…
Drawing a veil over such bibliophiliac intimacies, suffice it to say that A Dictionary of Rhyming Slangs is a seductively impudent and very well informed companion. If Antonio and I didn’t have author’s copies we would surely pay to have such good company to hand.
& here we are. Now, many years after the original conception, our baby is leaving home. For the moment we have been empty-nested, knowing that our book is making its way in libraries and universities, offering its services as a guide through the rhyming slang forest up the Amazon. It’s a jungle out there.
It’s been a busy few years. I am available now.