In this richly entertaining book, Jonathon Green traces the development of slang and its trajectory through society, and offers an impassioned argument for its defence. Beginning, at least in recorded terms, in the gutter and the thieves' tavern, and displayed only in a few criminological pamphlets, slang has made its way up and out: across social classes and into every medium. There is no doubt that slang deals with those areas of life that standard English often chooses to sidestep. Certainly, slang has many more synonyms for topics such as crime, drunkenness and recreational drug-taking, sexual intercourse and the parts of the body with which we conduct it (and a variety of other functions), for madness, stupidity, unattractiveness, violence, racism and nationalism. That, for the author, is its role and its charm. Often dismissed as 'bad' language or 'swear-words', slang, he argues, is a 'counter-language', the language that says no. Born in the street it resists the niceties of the respectable. It is language's film noir, its banana skin, its pin that pops pretention. It is neither respectable nor respectful.
It can be cruel, it can also be inventive, creative and very often funny. It represents us at our most human. Language! is an exuberant and rewarding work that uncovers an oral history of marginality and rebellion, of dispossession and frustration, and it shows how slang gives a vocabulary and a voice to our most guarded thoughts.