Slang is probably as old as human language, though the first slang dictionaries only started popping up in the 16th century. But nothing has been a boon for slang lexicography like the digital age, as the searchability of newspaper databases has allowed the past to be explored like never before.
For fans of English at its rawest, the recent arrival of the online version of Green’s Dictionary of Slang is a major event. It’s also a reminder that slang — for all its sleaze and attitude — is just as susceptible to careful research as anything else.
Sometimes, in anger or rebellion, I had felt that it was at best a frustration and at worst a misfortune to be the son of such a possessive and sharply gifted teacher. But my father knew better. To my surprise, he had these words put on her gravestone: “A devoted mother and grandmother and dear friend of many, including her former pupils.” He had properly assessed the components of her identity, the parts of her great labor, the variety of her lifework. What was necessary had been accomplished, and accomplished rightly. Her work was done.
David Grossman makes an unlikely standup comedian. Aged 62, he is slim and slight, fair-skinned and ginger-haired. Gentle, compassionate curiosity radiates out from behind his spectacles. You fear he would be eaten alive at an open-mic night. His trade is deep empathy and the closeup observation of frailty. He is a writer so sensitive, picking up every wave of heartache or joy, that the broad, robust demands of a spotlit stage at a comedy club would, you suspect, be hard to endure.
And yet in Grossman’s newest novel, he brilliantly channels the voice of a battered, bruised, half-crazed veteran comic as he performs a set in a nothing venue in a second-tier Israeli city. We get the entire two hour show, the voice of Dovaleh G commanding the novel, save for the observations of the narrator, a childhood friend, whom the comedian has begged to see this performance – which, it seems, might be his last.