Vulgar Tongues ~ Décharné

Vulgar Tongues: An Alternative History of English Slang
Max Décharné

Available at libraries near me: Hartford Public Library, Library Connection consortium

Further information and reviews at Goodreads

Sometimes a title just stands out. When selecting nonfiction, I have taken advice from a Twitter acquaintance and primarily choose books that have at least two good reviews. Vulgar Tongues fit that criteria, and I was pretty sure we didn’t have anything recent on slang in the collection.  The book seems to be fairly jam packed with information. If I don’t finish it, the reason will have more to do with the incompatibility of my slow reading speed and library loan periods than with any lack quality in the work.

On page 13, well, a lot of it can’t be posted in a family-friendly blog entry. The breaking of such taboos is actually the topic on that page. A quote from Iceberg Slim’s novel Trick Baby is followed by Décharné’s comment, “Just thirty words, but there’s something there to offend everybody — and that was, of course, the point.”

While I am concentrating on the early portions of books in these reviews, pages 51-52 (which falls in a no man’s land between the introduction and the first chapter) offer a shout out to West Hartford’s hometown hero, Noah Webster. Webster, as many a school child knows (do all school kids know this, or primarily those who grew up in town/routinely visited their grandparents in West Hartford?) wrote the first American dictionary. As Décharné discusses, in 1790 Webster advocated for spellings such as “ritten,” “waz,” and “indeted.” In his A Collection of Essays and Fugitiv Writings on Moral, Historical, Political and Literary Subjects, Webster wrote, “There iz no alternativ.”

I would like to end this post by congratulating Mr. Webster. It may have taken somewhere in the neighborhood of 220 years, but with the onset of texting and social media, your preferred spellings are finally beginning to take root.

Worth checking out: Yes.


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