BOOKS: Substandard-Bearer

The first of a three-volume lexicon of U.S. slang is a killer

What kind of cockamamie lingo is slang anyway? Samuel Johnson railed against it, complaining about the corrupting influence on the English language of what in his day was called cant. Daniel Defoe hated it. Noah Webster, in his 1828 American Dictionary, defined slang as "low, vulgar, unmeaning." And in all the years since, legions of teachers have tried to eradicate it.

Well, forget about it, Bubby. Slang may be substandard, the stepsister of Standard English, but it has enlivened the language for centuries. It is so deeply embedded in the daily life of Americans that no amount of bad-mouthing or mouthwashing...

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