Slang, Jargon, Cultural History…
‘A man of fire-new words, fashion’s own knight’
I have been writing, teaching and broadcasting about new language and linguistic and cultural change for three decades. I have compiled dictionaries and written cultural histories and biographies and founded The Slang and New Language Archive at King’s College London, a resource for scholars, the media and language enthusiasts which I still curate today.
I want to use this new site to publish updates in the form of comments, articles, podcasts and links, but also to share archived content from the past in the hope that it is still of interest (and in the knowledge that language-and-culture controversies don’t date as quickly as some people think).
I’m always collecting new terms, expressions and usages, but, unlike some linguists and many lexicographers I’m not interested only in the form and function of words. I want also to explore the emotional, psychological and social effects of language and the feelings and motives of those who use it.
Please do contact me to donate new words and ideas, to ask for information or to comment, criticise or suggest new areas to investigate. I’m also a consultant for trademarking, brand-names, the language of advertising and language-related legal matters.
For profiles of Tony Thorne see:
On my King’s College London webpages there are a number of older articles and some useful links:
Follow me on Twitter @tonythorne007
For more personal details…
I suffer from a writerly (if that isn’t too grand an adjective) affliction. Long ago I discovered, after a digression as the illustrator and designer, then the author of textbooks, a vocation as a sort of lexicographer, in that I could draft – even enjoyed crafting – the compressed, tightly defined, quasi-authoritative paragraphs (someone once wrote that the main requirement of lexicographers is that they display ‘cheerful omniscience’) that are appropriate to the work of reference. Fascinated by the childish temptation to draw up lists, quite unable to compose long, thoughtful, expository syntactic sequences, completely incapable of more than snatches of imagined dialogue, in fact of sustained imagining at all, I revelled in the micro-intricacies of style obtaining in that narrow discipline, well aware that the reference-book compiler was (like the translator) an unsung hero/ine and not the quintessential harmless drudge of Johnsonian condescension and that, contrary to the scathing remark by a poet-and-novelist friend, her or his works are not plot-free, only plot-obscure at first encounter.
There followed dictionaries for learners of English, with usage labels, usage notes and examples, dispensing with abbreviated ‘lexicographese’ codes and aiming at natural language; technical dictionaries (made up of carefully written capsules of data suspended in carefully woven networks of cross references); dictionaries of fashions and trends, the entries accompanied by citations and personal observations from raffish times; dictionaries of jargon, quoting the professionals I had trained or coached (and impersonated, too), above all dictionaries of slang, founded not upon library research and cuttings, but on listening to, talking to, soliciting donations from the real people (mostly disenfranchised impresarios of street-level style) who practise that kind of bonding, that bravura bantering.
In all of a career the progression, or mutation has been unspectacular, moving away from an affectation of stern objectivity towards a very tentative occasional disclosure of opinion. Advancing very slowly indeed from numbered headword though truncated paragraph to mini-essay. And incidentally from relentless concision to the occasional chancing of the whole arm in longer lucubrations (not a Selfism but borrowed from the French singer of the sixties, Antoine: I promise never to use another inkhorn term) as here.
So fiction, in nearly all of its traditional incarnations, has been ruled out. Any sort of extended treatment of complex ideas has long ago been dismissed as too tedious, too demanding. Collections of maxims and commonplace books are out of fashion; books of lists and miscellanies are modish but somehow ingratiating. Poetry has been flirted with and remains by far the most affecting and potentially spectacular (and versatile, and open-ended) of the longer forms, but only realistically available to the few who have the gift for it.
When advanced age, inevitable retrospection and involuntary nostalgia makes self-memorialisation (and a sustained apology for all one’s actions addressed in part to one’s children) an urgent priority, the only recourse for me is going to be the exquisite miniature, the self-authenticating assertion, the verbal equivalent of the vignette or snapshot. An assembly of them, an album, without the bagginess that implies. In fact a dictionary. Of myself.