Review: Slang: the People’s Poetry

Slang: the People’s Poetry is a new book by Michael Adams of Indiana University. It’s a thorough overview of slang, what it is, who uses it, how it is created, how it dies, its aesthetics, and how it affects the way we think. There are lots of slang dictionaries and glossaries, but few have dared take on the subject in a comprehensive and rigorous manner. This is the first such overview published in many years.

Slang is a tricky subject; even defining it poses challenges. Yet Adams takes on this rather daunting subject with aplomb and scholarly rigor. I highly recommend the book for anyone looking for a serious discussion of slang. This is not a “fun read” or a “joyous romp through our language” or [insert cliché here that is used to describe a lightweight book]. It’s an intellectual discussion and overview of a serious linguistic topic.

Serious, but not dull. It’s not a “fun read,” but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to read. There’s lots of subtle humor and word play buried in the pages. And while the treatment of the subject is scholarly in approach, Adams does not write with the mind-numbing academic style that is typical of much of academic discourse. You don’t need a background in linguistics to follow the discussion. And, as one would expect from a book on slang, it is filled with marvelous and inventive examples of the art of slang, from sources as diverse as Dickens to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

If you have anything more than a passing interest in slang and language, Slang: the People’s Poetry is for you.

2009, Oxford University Press
Hardcover, 256 pages
$23.95

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