Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Slang-o-Matic Extravaganza by Guest Author Randall Platt

Please welcome honored guest author and serious slang aficionado, Randall Platt (aka "that Platt woman").  So just who is this Randall Platt?
Taking the words right from her mouth: She writes fiction for adults and young adults and people who don’t own up to being either. A three-time winner of the WILLA Literary award for young adult fiction, she has been a finalist for the Washington State Book Award three times, in addition to winning several other state and national awards. Check out her three latest novels, all dripping with slang! 
Her books are available at bookstores everywhere and online outlets galore, but, as Randi points out, it sure is good to support your local indie bookstore. She adds, "I am on Facebook, but only as a real person, not a writer—not that a writer can’t be a real person, too. I guess."


Thanks for the guest spot, Ann! 

When folks learn about my passion for slang and the resulting interactive database I created, which I call Slang-O-Matic, the first thing they ask is, ‘How did this monstrosity all come about?’ Honestly? It all came about with a book review. The reviewer had questioned some terms I used in my first novel, The Four Arrows Fe-As-Ko (1992) about four mentally and physically challenged adults running the largest cattle ranch in Eastern Oregon. I did my due diligence and researched the heck out of the language of the day, the situation, and the people. From that point on, I decided I would create a database of the terms I used, especially since that novel was the first book in a three-book series. I was able to keep the language and the slanguage consistent from book to book. Handy, huh?
Gosh, I sure like Slang-O-Matic. I can’t wait to say THAT to Mom!

Well, as with many things in a writer’s life, my database took on much larger proportions and grew with each subsequent novel involving other eras and situations. I finally trademarked my tag line:
Slang-O-Matic—for the color of our speech.
Because we don’t speak,
nor should we write,
in black and white. 

What’s interesting to me as I explore the ‘history’ of a term, is how the internet and social media and of course, television and film, changed how a term can come into being and spread in an instant. Slang from the 19th Century and earlier took about ten years to ‘make the rounds.’ Today, a word can come in and out of favor within days. And of course, we writers need to be aware of that and make sure our readers of tomorrow will understand the slang of today. Conversely, readers of today might not understand the slang of yesterday. Proceed with caution. Everything needs to be in context.
Wow, according to Slang-O-Matic, there are over 174 references to coke
and not one of them referring to what’s in my hand.
Take for instance the common word ‘bug.’ According to Slang-O-Matic, there are 135 slang entries that contain ‘bug.’ It can mean anything from a bribe, to annoy, a crazy person, a cheating device, a jockey’s weight allowance, a tie pin, a bad student, a germ, to a strong desire to cheap tobacco. 

It seems the more taboo a subject is, the more slang surrounds it—take for instance the lower portions of one’s body. I count 221 terms which might be medical slang or street slang or child-speak for such areas and their functions. I will never want for a great slang term for one’s behind or procreation apparatus.

Why call a cab when you can call a ramble, a trip, a coffee grinder, a cracker box, a flapdoodle, a jarvey, or a jar box? Why call a drunk a drunk when you can choose from alki stiff, belch-guts, blossom-nose, boozington, bottle baby, croak, dipso, gin head, glow worm, light-house (big glowing red nose), soak, swillpot, malt-worm, drain pipe, or my personal favorite, a lush merchant? 

Folks usually wonder how I use my database for my own work. Since I have eight fields of information for each of my 43,000 (and counting) entries, I can easily manipulate the database for my needs. For instance, I am current working on book which takes place in the 1930s and my characters are from the fortune telling trades, the banking trades, the radio trades, and the con artistry trades. I have broken terms down to hundreds of categories - so, for this book, I call up slang and cant from the banking, carnival, con artist, and radio industries. Then I sort the terms by the date and my database returns a list of the terms used from 1920 to 1940, to cover the approximate timeline of my novel. So, if my conservative banking character needs to delicately refer to a woman as a whore, I can chose from my list of over 375 terms for ‘whore’: 
  • pro skirt 
  • QT cutie 
  • trick babe 
  • charity girl 
  • soft lady 
  • two-by-four (rhymes with ‘whore’) 
  • soft lady 
  • B-girl 
  • behavior problem 
  • boulevard woman 
  • clever girl 
 Now, my con artist character, being much more worldly and of the streets herself, might refer to that same whore in much less charitable terms, such as 
  • artichoke 
  • blisterine 
  • blowser 
  • brass nail 
  • hat rack 
  • jump 
  • mudkicker 
  • notch girl 
  • round heel 
  • scupper 
See the difference? Fun, huh?
So what began as someone questioning some terms I used decades ago as anachronistic, has evolved into those editors, writers, and book reviewers coming to me with their questions. I am certainly not the world’s foremost expert on slang, but I sure as heck know a thing or two by now. I always welcome questions regarding this along with any idea as to how to exploit all this work. 

Help! Before I slang again! 
Oh, dear. Billy’s been reading Slang-O-Matic again!


CarolCrigger said...

As always, fascinating reading. Thanks Randi, and thanks Ann.

Ann Parker said...

Randi definitely has a "way with words," right Carol?? :-)

Camille Minichino said...

You should tap (write to, hit up) those publishers of books like Emotional Thesaurus or even (Slang) for Dummies!


Alice Trego said...

This was great, Randi and Ann! I could hear Randi speaking about her Slang-o-Matic as if she was sitting right next to me. Amazing database of slang words.

Kimberly Burns said...

I want a Slang-o-matic for Christmas

Heidiwriter said...

I'm so impressed with your research and all the work you've done on this! Awesome, Randi!

Andrea Downing said...

This is fascinating and I can't help but wonder what the etymology of some of these words is. Why an artichoke or round heel? Two-by-four sounds cockney rhyming slang and that never makes much sense (apples and pears/stairs)but the others?

Randall Platt said...

It's That Platt Woman here. Thanks for your comments! As writers and readers, we all have a deep affection for slang.

Camille - I have thought about 'books' or even 'ebooks' for slang projects. Of course, the ability to search and sort wouldn't be available, but it's always an idea.

Hi And! Not sure about artichoke, except for possibly the physical ugliness. 'round heel' refers to a woman who spends a lot of time on her back rounding her heels. Rhyming slang hasn't seem to have caught on here in the states, but certainly figures into British slang, especially slang of the streets. Two by four rhymes with 'whore.' I think that's the only rhyming slang I included here. When there is a fun explanation, I do include that in my database. Sometimes that explanation is 'I have no idea!" Ha!

Devyn McC. said...

Wow, what a story! It's cool to hear how you transformed some simple feedback (nitpicks?) into building a massive digital resource. It sounds like a very handy database. Do you have any favorite sources for when you're initially researching slang to add to the database? And is the Slang-o-Matic online in some form?

Ann Parker said...

Hi Kimberly! I'm with you... Please give me a Slang-o-matic for Christmas, Santa!

Ann Parker said...

Andi and Randi... I, too, wondered about artichoke, and then ran across this in Cassell's dictionary of Slang (see first entry, second definition)

As for "round heels," my first thought was a woman who "walked the streets" for a living would wear down her shoes at the heels, but Randi's explanation makes more sense. :-)

Randall Platt said...

Devyn - I use The Oxford English Dictionary and Cassell's Dictionary of Slang as my primary go to sources. I also own all five volumes of the terrific Dictionary Of American Regional English. Fascinating stuff! Then of course, I have the other 250 sources I have used over the years. From the very obvious to the very obscure. For instance, I am just now reading Sut Lovingood by George Washington Harris (1867) for wonderful Ozark and Southern slang and expressions.

Ann Parker said...

Hi Randi... It looks like there's a market for your Slang-o-matic! Hope you can find a publisher or a way to sell subscriptions. I'd be the first in line to buy, if that comes to pass. :-) Thank you for being a guest poster on my modest Slang-o-rama blog!

Randall Platt said...

Thanks, Ann, for hosting! I'll keep you posted on the future of my never-ending love/hate relationship with slang.

windowsurfer said...

Ms. Pratt! This is all pog, as my 13-yo grandson would say (giving a well-earned rest to "awesome!"). Please insert "Pimp" into the S-O-M machinery and see what synonyms get horked out.

Tchuss, caio, cheers, later, allfornow, bi-eeeee, seive, salut, aufscheet,
Mitch from N of 50°