Logos Multilingual Portal

16 - Online slang dictionaries

"At the same time, I must expressly warn the investigator against overestimating the importance of symbols in the interpretation of dreams, restricting the work of dream-translation to the translation of symbols, and neglecting the technique of utilizing the associations of the dreamer"1.

For all people who, like me, speak and write in English without this being their mother tongue, knowing that mother tongue users, too, sometimes have their problems with their language as spoken by someone else, could be a consolation. A classical such understanding problem concerns the relations between U.S. English speakers and British English speakers. To meet these difficulties (but also all translators that, accustomed to one cultural and linguistic context, have to deal with another one) there are some useful websistes.

One is called The very best of British. The American's guide to speaking British, at the address http://www.effingpot.com. This site is divided into many sections, devoted to food, clothes, slang etc, and for each it has a glossary with a humorous explanation of the possible misunderstandings. Here is the entry "pants":

Pants - Don't make a comment about an Englishman's pants - they are his underwear! Same for ladies too, though knickers would be more common. We were in a pub in England one day when two attractive American girls walked in wearing quite short skirts and one loudly said to the other that she was cold and that she should have worn pants! Needless to say she instantly had the attention of every Englishman in the place, who thought there was nothing under her skirt!

Another site, whose name I couldn't make out, at the address http://cgi.peak.org/~jeremy/retort.cgi reports a well-documented bilingual dictionary British-U.S. and U.S.-British. If you connect with the mentioned address, you find the British-U.S. page. If you click on "American", you get the reciprocal version. An example of the "pants" entry in British:

pants cf n: underwear, syn. shorts, briefs, boxer shorts, Y-fronts, knickers, trollies, unthinkables, nasties, nut chokers. (See also adj. pants.)

pants sl adj: crap, piss poor, syn. knickers, "it's pants!", "that was pants!".

While the U.S. version refers to "trousers". The "freeway" entry, instead, of the U.S. version reports:

freeway n : motorway, the interstate freeway system started in 1956, see US highway.

In the slang field fortunately there are many internet initiatives that can be of much help to us. The next I quote contains a well-updated and very large of British slang, http://www.aldertons.com/english-.htm, and is called English to Slang, edited by Jeremy Alderton, devoted in particular to cockney. The name derives from the fact that it gives a sort of translation of a word, or an idiom, in British English, in slang, setting aside official colloquial use and informal colloquial use. Forms that are found there are often really inaccessible without a guide. Here is, for example, the entry "wine":

British: Wine: slang: Porcupine example: "Where's the porc waiter".

A larger slang dictionary with a more powerful search engine is instead Ted Duckworth's one, A Dictionary of Slang, at the address http://www.peevish.co.uk/slang/search.htm

give someone their P45

Vrb phrs. To terminate a relationship. A P45 is the official form given to someone on their dismissal or departure from employment and explains tax details that are needed by a future employer.

This is an entry randomly chosen. As you see, sometimes the translator could easily get to the solution without such explanations. This site is really powerful, and contains a home page with many explanations on the structure, and also provides the possibility of proposing new entries, with or without a solution by the proposer.

At the site www.urbandictionary.com there is another slang dictionary, not of British English. It consists in the contributions of users: for every entry there are many definitions, one for each of the different ones proposed by the site's users. Near every definition there is a score: it depends on the number of users that share that definition. An example of definition from the bottom, rightly self-defined a site of amateur lexicographers. The problem is that often votes are not given to the most exhaustive definition, but to the funniest, with no consideration for people who don't know the meaning of an expression and, from witty comments, can't get to any idea. An example among the most fortunate:

Heenster Someone who succeeds academically without regular attendance. Example: "That fucking Heenster doesn't even come to class and he still gets better grades than me!"

As to U.S: slang, maybe the most interesting site is The Online Slang Dictionary. A Collaborative Project, on the site http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~wrader/slang/. Even if it is another non-professional dictionary, for each entry you find the name and the country of the person who proposed the definition, so that you can understand more precisely the geographic collocation. Sometimes is us used also for non-U.S: slang, like in this case:

pogey   n   1. welfare, "social assistance." That is, money received from the state due to unemployment or a low income. ("He lost his job and had to collect pogey.")  Submitted by Joyce Baker, Canada, 01-01-2003.

For South-African slang you can visit the Surfrikan Slang at the address http://www.wavescape.co.za/bot_bar/surfrikan/slang.html. A precious instrument for people translating from the English of that country, it contains entries like:

Nooit ('Noy-t') (No way, oh no!) Another way of saying no, but also a sign of incredulous response. If you have just heard that a South African won the world surfing champs, you would say, "Nooit! Are you serious?"

For New Zealand slang there is the site http://www.nz.com/NZ/Culture/NZDic.html translating from New Zealand English into U.S: English, and is called in fact NZ English to US English Dictionary, managed by the nz.com portal. It is not very extended, but you can find the main expressions, like:

Rogernomics: (derogatory) radical free enterprise economic policies introduced by Roger Douglas, a Labour Government Minister of Finance.

The last example of this unit will be entirely devoted to the Australian slang. The most widespread dictionary in Australia is the Macquarie. The internet version of this dictionary unfortunately is available only on payment. At the address http://www.macquariedictionary.com.au/anonymous@FF957165833+0/-/p/dict/slang.html you find the slang section, however, that can be freely consulted. If for example you search in this dictionary the entry "parra", you fined:

parra noun (Derogatory) a tourist or visiting non-resident of a beach area. [? from parasite, or Parramatta, Sydney, considered as indicative of the classic type of westie visitor]

In the next unit we'll go on examining online resources for translators.


Bibliographical references

FREUD SIGMUND, L'interpretazione dei sogni, in Opere, vol. 3, Torino, Boringhieri, a cura di C. L. Musatti, 1966.

FREUD SIGMUND, The Interpretation Of Dreams, translated by A. A. Brill, London, G. Allen & company, 1913.

Logos Dictionary, available in the world wide web, http://www.logosdictionary.org, consulted 15 March 2004.

1 Freud 1900: 325-326.