Two Online Collections, Green’s Dictionary of Slang and the LEME

David Vancil

I learned as others who follow DSNA’s Facebook page that two important online resources, which previously required a paid subscription to use fully, are now free. Since they are dependent on the contents of lexicons and related material, I thought I would mention them again and add a few descriptive remarks members of the society may find useful.

Jonathon Green (Photo credit: Gabriel Green)

As of October 18, 2018, Jonathon Green’s Dictionary of Slang has been made available free for research into slang terminology. Not only is it a scholarly resource, but casual word mavens will enjoy simply browsing through it as recreation. I certainly found it great fun. It should be noted the web-based resource is based on and an expansion of his widely hailed massive multivolume work published in 2010. I recall it listed at around $500, which would have put it out of reach of most individuals and many institutions.

Almost as soon as the book version appeared, Green, the man behind the book and many others, set about creating a searchable database version of the book. The database currently contains more than 55,000 headwords and over 640,000 citations. Of course, there’s more to this exciting resource, but I won’t go into detail here. As of this writing, the online edition has been updated seven times in just two years.

Not that much has been said about the collection of print material that led to the book and subsequent database. I looked through the bibliography of sources, which is broken down by each letter of the alphabet. Included in the A’s are anonymous works, and it must be said, there are a few quirky entries. Nonetheless, the extent of the entries is massive, constituting hundreds of citations entered under each letter of the alphabet. This constitutes a collection of works, which whether held together or distributed, is undoubtedly the most extensive collection of slang of its kind. All one can do is say, “Wow!”

As for the search engine and the results, it’s truly impressive. But, as Green has indicated in his own remarks on the DSNA Facebook page, there’s a lot left to do. And given the nature of language, this will always be the case.

Ian Lancashire (Photo credit: Anne Lancashire)

Housed at the University of Toronto under the auspices of the Press, the second resource I want to mention is Lexicons of Early Modern English, which continues since its inception under the continuing and enthusiastic leadership of Ian Lancashire. Begun some years ago, I can remember accessing it on an IBM clone and enthusiastically searching through a handful of useful titles in the database known as EMEDD that Ian initially released in 1996, followed by what is called LEME 1.0 in 2006, which focused on lexicons and related works published from 1475 through 1625 with “500,000 word entries of 150 texts.” Who could have dreamed that with its relaunch on October 1, 2018, as LEME 2.0, the database now includes more than 250 analyzed texts with a date range which has expanded to include Samuel Johnson 1755 two-volume dictionary.

By the way, these 250 works constitute under 20% of the total number of texts identified for inclusion in this massive database, which allows for contextual searching and provides the user with an opportunity to view results as they originally appeared. Indeed, the search possibilities are somewhat staggering, and as Ian has indicated, they are also undergoing improvements, which will soon allow users to download texts in plain text or TEI.

Another undertaking is a major lemmatization project which is in the works. Ian reminded me that the source texts have been made available in many instances through EEBO TCP (Early English Books Online Text Creation Project). LEME is one of many entities involved in this important scholarly enterprise.

Ian, who I hope doesn’t mind my mentioning he is 75, has been focusing primarily on the LEME since 2012, putting aside previous duties while working week in and week out over the last six years. Meanwhile, he continues to bring individuals with interest in the field onboard. Many of them, in fact, are receiving training which they’ll be able to use in similar projects. As for himself, Ian is at work, in his own words, “on a book that discusses what we can discover about lexis and language from dictionaries and glossaries 1475 to 1625.”

Both Jonathon Green and Ian Lancashire are doing the hard work of making data gleaned from relevant historical lexicographical and other germane sources available to researchers and word lovers alike. One can learn easily how they have gone about creating these indispensable resources on their websites. Rather than go into detail, which most readers will not find particularly useful about particular titles, search strategies, software or programming, and similar matters, I suggest that interested parties visit the respective websites. Green’s Dictionary of Slang dictionary is at The LEME, under the leadership of Ian, may be found at Have a look-see. You’ll find it’s worthwhile.