The Devil’s Dictionary

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The Devil's Dictionary

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The Oxford English Dictionary is the closest thing we have to a complete record of the English language, and the September 2006 update reflects its omnivorous approach: new entries included “Disneyfication,” “bada-bing,” “liposculpture,” “gay-friendly,” “Islamophobia,” “scooch,” “heightism,” “carpet bombing,” and “de-pants.” It’s safe to say they’re casting a wide net.
    But even the OED has limits. I searched the online version in vain for the expression “get brain” — a synonym for “get head” that makes fellatio sound like an SAT-score-boosting experience. Though entries are included for “mooseburger,” “moosewood,” and “moosey,” there’s nada about “moose knuckle,” a term that the zoologically and pornographically minded know means “camel toe.” “Shrimp” is listed as a verb, but only in the sense of fishing for or with shrimp: shrimping as toe-sucking is neglected. And I couldn’t find a peep about “crime scene sex,” a non-CSI related act of fuckery with a menstruating woman.
    If, like the OED, you’re unaware of these terms, you may also suspect that they are just jokes or the work of a lone wordsmith. But though these terms are hardly common knowledge, they’ve been used by multiple authors for at least several years, as demonstrated by the citations in Grant Barrett’s Double-Tongued Dictionary (DTD) website. In DTD and the recently published Official Dictionary of Unofficial English, Barrett collects words that are established over time but have gone unnoticed by major dictionaries. In the process, Barrett has uncovered a metric buttload of undocumented and under-documented words (like “metric buttload”) and demonstrated that our language


is a lot bigger, weirder, and raunchier than anyone thought.
    DTD grew out of Barrett’s blog World New York, founded in 1999, which featured diverse NYC-centric info plus posts on words he spotted in the wild but couldn’t locate in any dictionaries. These unusual — but not always new — words became a popular feature, and eventually Barrett founded DTD in 2004, which he calls as “a growing dictionary of old and new words from the fringes of English.” DTD is a historical dictionary, meaning that representative citations are included to show how the words are used over time — and to demonstrate that the words really are used over time.
    The credibility of the historical dictionary model is one of many differences between DTW and the Wikipedia-like Urban Dictionary, where anyone can enter any word or even hundreds of words, none of which may have any currency at all. Before including a word, Barrett makes sure it exists over a “nontrivial period,” which he acknowledges varies from word to word. A newer term like “crime scene sex” contains five citations from 2001 to 2005, but many words are less recent. For example — “raincoat crowd” has at least a twenty-one-year-old career describing moviegoers and other folks in search of porny content.
    Since Barrett — the author of Hatchet Jobs and Hardball: The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang and former Project Editor of The Historical Dictionary of American Slang — searches for new words of all sorts, it would be wrong to consider him part of the raincoat crowd. In fact, he said in an email interview that DTD‘s “sex-related words are so popular that I find it irritating that so many people come to the site searching only for them.” Sex terms may not be his favorites, but Barrett does know where to find them: “Bulletin boards and discussion forums where “escorts’ and their Johns meet tend to have a lot of discussion about what certain terms mean, and because of the need to mask the activities taking place there, they tend to be rich in slang, euphemisms, and acronyms.” Two of these acronyms are “DATY” (dining at the Y), an anatomically accurate term for cunnilingus, and “GFE” (girlfriend experience), which describes sex services that mimic the intimacy and rituals of a non-paying relationship.
    Homosexuality is another popular topic in Barrett’s dictionary. “Chi-chi man,” “noofter,” and “two-spirited” are all slurs for gay men among Jamaicans, Brits, and Native Americans, while “lesbian bed death” is a depressing condition that’s existed in language since at least 1992. A more positive spin on gay sex is embodied by “HoYay,” which should be familiar to fans of websites like Television Without Pity. This abbreviation of “Homoeroticism, yay!” evolved from an exclamation to a noun — so it makes grammatical sense to say “HoYay!” about HoYay such as the male-on-male friendship of Wilson and the lead character of House. Then there’s an alternative to “light in the loafers” that’s fairly inoffensive and often complimentary: “sweet in the pants,” which Barrett traces back to 1998.
    Of course, the citations don’t tell the whole history of a term: the online “sweet in the pants” entry prompted this response from reader Marcia Wyatt, “Okay, now, I KNOW this is an old phrase. Hell, my grandparents used it to describe gay males.” But evidence is everything to lexicographers like Barrett, who responded: “Yeah, but can you show me old in-print citations for it? That’s one of the reasons this site exists: there are plenty of old terms that just never somehow made it into a dictionary. So we’re off to gather them as best we can and try and trace them a little ways back towards their origins.”
    It’s hard to say whether any of Barrett’s words will make it into major dictionaries, though New Oxford American Dictionary editor Erin McKean has some opinions: “Of (Barrett’s terms), I think ‘junk’ as slang for ‘genitals’ is most likely — it’s a headword that’s already in, and general enough to be useful.” McKean thinks that “boi” (a feminine gay male or butch lesbian) and “squick” (an adaptable synonym for disgust) also have strong chances of making the cut, and she admitted to “a sneaking fondness for ‘HoYay.'” That term seems to be big with dictionary editors, as Steve Kleinedler, Senior Editor of the American Heritage Dictionary (AHD), said that “as a TWoP fan I would love to see it (in major dictionaries) but it’s not very likely.”
    Kleinedler adds that it’s not prudishness that keeps many sex terms out of major dictionaries but a basic difference in focus: “Slang is ephemeral and constantly changing, and we tend to not add a word into the AHD until we know it’s going to be sticking around for the long haul and that it’s crossed over to mainstream popular culture.” Ultimately, according to Barrett, “The key to sex language is, like all language, that it have utility…The good old four-letter words are the most useful by far.”  

©2006 Mark Peters and