Friday, 17 June 2011

FACTUAL REVIEW: Crooked Talk - Jonathan Green

Release Date: 25/03/11


The language of crime has a long and venerable history - in fact, the first dictionary of words specifically used by criminals, Hye-Way to the Spittel House, dates from as early as 1531. Jonathon Green is our national expert on slang, and in Crooked Talk he looks at five hundred years of crooks and conmen, from the hedge-creepers and counterfeit cranks of the sixteenth century to the blaggers and burners of the twenty-first. Not to mention a substantial detour behind bars into the world of prisons, and, of course, the swag, the hideouts, the getaway vehicles and allied 'tools of the trade' - not forgetting the cops, peelers, fly cops and all other varieties of the boys in blue. Arranged thematically, the book shows where particular words came from, how they have evolved and why they mean what they do. If you have ever wondered when the police were first referred to as pigs (the eighteenth century), why prison guards became known as redraws ('warder' backwards), or what precisely the subtle art of dipology involves (pickpocketing), then this book has all the answers.


From what I know of a lot of fantasy readers, many have a secret yearn to be a writer (I know I do) and whilst my own efforts are more for personal pleasure than to ever see the light of day, I’m always looking for something a little different that can help add not only authenticity but also add a unique cast upon the characters. Whilst this usually requires a great deal of research there are occasional titles that not only jump out but also are books that are pretty hard to put down. Such is the case with this title by Jonathan Green which whilst aimed more as a factual curiosity for the coffee table is one that’s going to be utilised time and again by myself.

Split into helpful chapters, I can easily flick through and locate thief parlances that will add a flavour of something dangerous as well as believable to the characters and once you have your timeline to hand (roughly the time period to which the technology has advanced within your writing) you can pick up some cracking phrases to utilise that add another flavour to your work. Add to this a wonderfully fascinating look at a section of humanity, answers to curious questions (for example I always thought a Grass was a shortened version of snake in the grass, however it actually comes from 1920’s Rhyming Slang for Grasshopper meaning shopper) and all in it’s a cracking title that you really can’t pass by.

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