With Professor Julie Coleman
Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) comes with a pedigree of written sources to provide historical credibility, but he claimed also to have consulted ‘soldiers on the long march, seamen at the cap-stern, ladies disposing of their fish … the applauding populace, attending … executions’. His colourful account of the seamier side of Regency London is both engaging and repellent: in a statement that is not entirely in keeping with the contents of the dictionary, he re-assures his readers that he has dealt with indelicate and immodest words ‘in the most decent manner possible’.
For Slang’s foremost scholar, Julie Coleman, (Professor of English Language at the University of Leicester and author of four monographs on the cant and slang dictionary tradition covering the sixteenth to the twentieth century), slang is neither completely reprehensible nor entirely admirable – though as her lecture will vividly demonstrate, completely fascinating.
Professor Coleman’s The Life of Slang outlines the history of slang around the English-speaking world and she has also worked on the language of Bunyan, the influence of advertising on the English language and on English words for love, sex and marriage since Anglo-Saxon times.
Francis Grose’s ‘Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue’ was first published in 1785, and is a dictionary of slang words. Grose was one of the first lexicographers to collect slang words from all corners of society, not just from the professional underworld of pickpockets and bandits. Grose and his assistant Tom Cocking took midnight walks through London, picking up slang words in slums, drinking dens and dockyards and adding them into their ‘knowledge-box’. ‘The Vulgar Tongue’ was recognised throughout the 19th century as one of the most important collections of slang in the English language, and it would strongly influence later dictionaries of this kind.