As someone with a rather vulgar tongue myself, I love the ever-evolving language of slang and so this book was a delight, trawling through its history – how different terms were born, how they have evolved over time (some starting off respectable and becoming vulgar, and vice versa), how slang travels, and the different groups from which these words came. Often indeed very vulgar, derogatory, offensive and so on, slang also shows off best our creativity, imagination and wit, although obviously the perception of whether or not something is funny or downright appalling changes with time, along with the society around us. Slang also helps to build our identities for us – borne out by the fact that most of the slang we use comes from various groups that are not really a part of ‘mainstream’ society for some reason or another, with criminals, the armed forces, and LGBT folk in particular having given us a rich alternative language.
Decharne takes us on an entertaining trip through time, mingling amongst the many groups who gave birth to various slang terms, travelling overseas and then back again (shipped out as part of our criminal class and armed forces, then delivered back through pop culture), and speculating on the future of slang. It was only really this last bit that let the book down a little, as Decharne started sounding a little too Daily Mail for my liking, bemoaning the fact that ‘political correctness gone mad’ is robbing us of great slang. I’m in complete disagreement here – anyone who has spent any time at all on the internet will have seen a great array of slang that is not at all politically correct, and I also don’t believe that slang HAS to be punching down and oppressive of those not like ourselves in order to be inventive, perceptive, and funny.
But that was a minor downside to an entertaining book, and one that is perfect for anyone with an interest in language.