The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang

The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang

The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang by John Ayto and John Simpson. There’s no end to the ‘mind-blowing’ power of Modern Slang. As a mouse is electronically wired to a laptop so too will this dictionary become an intravenous drip to a writer. Hey ho, writers and authors ... read on!


When Modern Slang arrived it should have duly been stacked at the bottom of my review pile, but something about the cover (maybe the wedge of cheese) made me flick through it before jamming it under at least 17 others.

And before I knew it, I was in writers’ wonderland!

At first flicking through and then avidly fixated with each page. If dinner, partners, kids and life in general didn’t get in the way, an aspiring writer, and indeed any well-tuned author, could get lost in this book only to reappear when they’ve chewed through every word.

Character Labels

Not only can you find modern ways with dialogue, but you can create sparkling ‘labels’ for your characters. Have a good nose through the thematic section, it’s like bottled inspiration!

Don’t give a boring account of a man with no hair. Bald is out. Slaphead is in – especially if you want him to be a ruffian or dodgy character. For example, when describing your suspect … let’s call him Mike … why write ‘Mike was bald’ when you could scribe ‘a slaphead in a three piece suit’. Why give another character ‘big eyes’ when they can have ‘lamps’ … or they may have ‘peepers’ for that matter.

Your teens or young guns wouldn’t say ‘this room stinks’ more likely they would grunt out a ‘this joint is minging’. If you had to kill off a character for whatever reason why would they be ‘dead’ when they could be ‘pushing up daisies’?

People Power

Take a look at People and Society, here you have a wide choice of words to describe folks from different nations, and depending on the character you may want a bad ass to say something derogatory or lightly refer to their ethnic group.

Same with people status, a child wouldn’t be simply a child. Depending on who the character is that is referring to the child they could be a sprog, a sprout, a rug-rat or a squirt.

Whether you are describing a posh totty or a down and out tramp, Modern Slang feeds you a smorgasbord of juicy bang on trend jargon.

And when you get to create a villain and write his or her dialogue you have a multitude of sins to make their dialogue bounce of the page and into the hearts and minds of your readers. If one of your characters is having it out with a fat person, they could lob any number of lippy expressions from the chocker A to Z, which packs most of the book.

Global Trot

For extra value it even gives you the time period of the slang, such as “green-ass adjective. US. Inexperienced. 1949”.  In most cases Modern Slang helps you out with suggestions such as “grasser noun (1950) Five minutes alone with you and he’ll be babbling like a grasser (1968).

Much of the slang listings gives you ethnic origins such as African-American or Austral and you’ll even find quotes from popular publications such as “ankle-biter, noun, Austral, a young child. 1981. Sydney Morning Herald. Travelling overseas with an ankle-biter has its advantages.”

Don’t stop at the people in the themes; follow through to build your hero or baddie through the different categories. Find inventive and attention-grabbing descriptors such a ‘beanpole’ or ‘lofty’ rather than tall and drop in ‘lard-ass’ to replace the well-known fattie. And maybe an ‘anorak’ for someone obsessed with something and try ‘loaded’ for your down and out drunk.

Include behaviour and employment in a character’s point of view – for example they may earn ‘peanuts’ or ‘chicken-feed’, they may be a scientist … err preferably a boff, perhaps they graft or schelp as a sparky, they could be a sob-sister or wet leg and their mood today could be ‘gutted’ or ‘creased up’. Instead of young or old, they could be described as a snot-nose or rookie and a wrinkly or codger. There are also lots and lots of rude examples dishing out some game on chat for your characters to be vulgar!

Earbashing The Johns

As all good reviews go I need to cover the good and bad. Quite simply, there is no bad with this book, but I still give the two Johns an ear-bashing. This dictionary was first published in 1997 and the second edition in 2008. My only beef, and it’s not so much a beef – more like a plea – is that the two Johns should turn this into a Rogets of Modern Slang. Why? So that us mere mortals of aspiring writers are hand-held and nourished through the process of finding these scintillating ideas for dialogue and character descriptions.

For example you may know that your bitchy femme fatale who wheedles money out of an innocent man is a gold-digger and you’d find her pretty easily under G, but what if you were struggling to fathom out a label for your gawky, awkward middle-aged anti-social man? You may not find him under K for klutz.

Like Roget’s Thesaurus sections words in the endless index and then gives section numbers to find a variety of words in themes such as ‘Matter in General’ or ‘Emotion’ and ‘Intellect’, I thought Modern Slang deserved a similar format.

So back to our klutz: he could be mentioned under gawky and awkward, he could rear his head under many other descriptors and thus the intrepid new writer will inevitably trip over the klutz at some point of pouring over their Roget’s of Modern Slang! The whole idea for a writer to be thumbing through the book is to find slang they don’t know so how do they know where to find it if they don’t know the slang exists?

Stacks more work for the Johns of course, I know this because I keep my own personal document of hip-hop-happening dialogue slang I came across, but they’re already old sweat at the game so it should be abso-bloody-lutely on their to do list!

Help Us Writers 'O Mighty Publisher

Also a note to their publisher, Oxford University Press (OUP), it would be super-duper for writers to have the Thematic Index in the contents marked by page number (s) – just helps a busy writer legit to the hot spot as quick as poss.

Ok, now that I’ve been a douche-bag and given the boys grief it doesn’t mean this dictionary is in the dog-house. By no means! It will proudly be da-bomb causing a doodah beside Roget’s, its bro dictionaries from OUP and my other dog-eared writing reference guides.

All that remains for me to repeate my opening statement: there’s no end to the ‘mind-blowing’ power of Modern Slang. As a mouse is electronically wired to a laptop so too will this dictionary become an intravenous drip to a writer.

iHubbub Quote

“Every writer should devour this dialogue treasure trove to ensure their characters’ dialogue is packed with human oomph. A writer’s addiction!” iHubbub


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