A truly wild pair of books came our way not too long ago, the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang.
In total, it’s 1,700 pages of all the English slang ever used in America spanning the last 300 years, divided into three backbreaking volumes.
The last volume covers words beginning P to Z, and it’s not out yet, so I couldn’t find out what “twentythree skidoo” means. We had to make do with A-O.
Which, of course, includes the all-important F-words.
Flipping toward the Fs, I stopped at an entire page devoted to the history of the word “bastard,”defined as “contemptible
individual.” Interestingly, one of the first times “bastard” saw print was in Shakespeare’s Henry V. “Ish a villain, and a bastard, and a knave, and a rascal.”
Although most white people don’t know that “ofay” means “white person,” that’s the slang word used by some Black Americans. Apparently, there was even once a band called the O’Fays, white boys who wished they were black.
The word “blood” or “youngblood” first came on the scene in the Sixties, as in: “What’s up, blood?” One army boy wrote in his diary that you have to be careful how you use it “One black guy got highly insulted when a white guy called him blood. He threatened to bite off the white guy’s nose.”
“G-man” was first used by the Irish for the British secret police, but was later applied to the FBI. As in: “I gave a G-man a double sawski so he let me go.”
As predicted, the 14 pages of the F-word’s history made for hilarious reading, which unfortunately has no place in a highly respected family magazine such as this. The first recorded use was in 1680 when some aspiring poet wrote: “Thus was I Rook’d of Twelve substantial F—s.” Right on down to the present day and the song which goes, “LBJ’s a f—in’ A.”
Until next time, chill and live large. You know you got the mojo, the get-go and the say-so. Yo!
Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volumes I & II by J.E. Lighter
Random House, Toronto, 1994 & 1997