In this abundantly detailed history, Green argues that a counterlanguage will always exist, providing a voice for the...

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THE VULGAR TONGUE

GREEN'S HISTORY OF SLANG

A lexicographer chronicles the language of the streets.

Green (Green’s Dictionary of Slang, 2011, etc.) complements his three-volume compendium of slang terms with this historical overview of slang’s evolution, its recurring themes, and its function “to mock, to undermine, to showcase skepticism and doubt.” Slang, as the author defines it, is a special vocabulary associated with urban life that “resists the niceties of the respectable. It is impertinent…unconvinced by rules, regulations and ideologies.” Since speech is ephemeral, Green draws on extensive research in literature and the media, as well as specialized dictionaries and lexicons, such as copious notes assembled by Walt Whitman, who admitted to being “an industrious collector” of words, with slang “one of my specialties.” Much of the book follows slang chronologically, finding linguistic evidence in classical Rome; medieval Europe; Elizabethan England; and teeming 18th-century cities riddled with crime. Green devotes a chapter to Australia, where penal settlements were populated with British criminals who brought their own argot. As a young officer wrote in the late 1700s, “[t]he sly dexterity of the pickpocket, the brutal ferocity of the footpad, the more elevated career of the highwayman and the deadly purpose of the midnight ruffian” each resulted in a distinct “unnatural jargon.” Besides crime, sex, the author asserts, “has been the driving force for as long as the vocabulary has been collected,” and he offers abundant examples of words referring to relevant body parts and their functions. Homosexuality has generated its own vocabulary (and its own chapter, “Gayspeak: The Lavender Lexicon”), as has bawdy cockney slang, with its use of rhyming, which still flourishes in London. American slang arose from a desire to distinguish the new country’s language from its British origins, with later contributions from various influxes of immigrants. African-American slang, prominent in hip-hop, has spread internationally and through classes, becoming the dominant slang of the 20th century.

In this abundantly detailed history, Green argues that a counterlanguage will always exist, providing a voice for the marginalized and expressing deep—and sometimes dark—human needs.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-19-939814-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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