AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and our guest this week on Wordmaster is writer Paul Dixon, just out with a new version of Slang: The Topical Dictionary of Americanisms.
PAUL DIXON: "Most slang dictionaries go A-to-Z and they co-mingle the slang of politics and the slang of baseball and the slang of criminals and the slang of all these other things into one thing. What I realized was that really that's not how people actually operate. So I broke it down into all the components: used-car slang and slang of people outdoors, people who work outdoors, the slang of trades people, the slang of real estate.
"All of these things -- because when you create a group of people, one of the first things they do is they build their own little language to sort of identify them as such. So a person who is a commercial fisher -- fisher, fisher person -- has a vastly different language than, say, somebody who is a computer programmer or somebody who works in a circus. So what I tried to do is break it down into over forty different pieces.
AA: "So, for example, if you use the term 'dancing baloney' -- to me, I've never heard that term before. But I see it here in your dictionary. What is a -- explain dancing baloney."
PAUL DIXON: "Dancing baloney are animated .gif files -- which are, you know, digital images -- and other Web files that are useless and serve simply to impress the client. And so somebody might say in a cube, 'This Web page looks kind of dull, maybe we should throw in some dancing baloney to help it.'"
AA: "So just kind of flash on the page."
PAUL DIXON: "Another of my favorite ones is 'buzzword-compliant.' Buzzword-compliant means that the person who's writing a memo or something that's going through the corporate mechanisms has all the buzzwords, all the hottest terms that upper management wants them to have in the document. So if the buzzword this month is blue-team-red-team-something-or-other, that goes in the document. They might even really not know what it is, but they want to make sure that this is all right, this has got all the buzzwords in it.
"Another one I love is 'catering vulture,' which means that somebody -- people in an office building, let's say there's an executive luncheon or something, these are underlings that basically wait till all the VIPs [very important people] are out of the suite -- "
RS: "And then they eat the food!"
PAUL DIXON: "And then they grab the food. Or there's a party, you know, some special thing -- they come in early in the morning and there's stuff left over from the night before."
RS: "This isn't the first edition of this book."
PAUL DIXON: "No, no -- what happened was, this is the third, the first one came out in nineteen ninety-one and each dictionary changed radically, because my idea was to capture like a snapshot for that moment. So there are things in the first book that are long gone. I mean, the first book came out before the Internet. And so each time -- so all of these things are electric.
"So, so -- one of my favorites is this thing called cube-speak."
RS: "Well, can we talk about that a little bit?"
PAUL DIXON: "Yes. Cube-speak is -- in the United States especially, and probably true all over the world, the modern office building is really a section of cubes. In the old days, people had their own separate little house -- uh, little room inside the office. Now there are all these cubes. They all have a computer and they all have this and they all have that.
"And so it's a very irreverent language of sort of not the corporate executive but the corporate underling. And so, for example, one of my favorites is 'prairie-dogging' and that's when something happens, some loud noise or somebody yells and everybody starts popping up over the edge of their cubicles. They're like prairie dogs popping out of a hole in the desert."
AA: Prolific writer Paul Dixon is the author of Slang: The Topical Dictionary of Americanisms. He says the value of slang is often in its ability to communicate complex ideas simply and quickly.
RS: But his advice to English learners is to listen carefully to how others use slang. Because, as everyone knows, a person can sound foolish using slang incorrectly.
AA: And that's Wordmaster for this week. Our e-mail address is [email protected] And, to learn more about American English, go to voanews.com/wordmaster. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.