Reverse engineering The Timelines of Slang

I decided to tackle the amusing DH project The Timelines of Slang. This site allows the user to track the slang of about 30 or so words dating back over 500 years. The source for this website seems to just be the research of Jonathan Green, aka “Mr. Slang,” who has found these terms in print, lyrics, scripts, online or elsewhere. In an authors note on the site, Green states,

“There are certainly more that I have yet to discover. I must also add that the dates are not set in stone. Slang research is always changing what we know and there is only one rule: words are always older than you think. When I find proof, I shall make the necessary changes.”

This gives the site a sort of lackluster credibility, with the information coming from a single man who is simply coming across terms and their dates of use and uploading them to this site. The site itself works on the Timeglider.com software system, which essentially is just a software system that allows the user to create ‘events’ across a timeline. This site works by selecting the word you wish to discover slang for, for instance slang for ‘fool,’ and presenting a timeline for all the different slang terms for that word over the years.

The presentation of the site was effective with minor inconveniences. Each slang term is represented by a symbol, often stars of varying colors, that corresponds with either the exact word or similar words and ideas that would be connected to that word. For instance, when looking up the slang for ‘fool,’ you are also subjected to slang for the words ‘foolish’ and ‘foolishness.’ These stars are also placed along the timeline so the user can see when in history they were used. One of the flaws of the site was when you clicked on a term, if would open a small window that could be used for a short explanation of the term or how long the term was used, but instead the box simply has a single date (which can already be inferred from the position on the timeline) and the word itself. For instance clicking on ‘mutt,’ a term for fool used in January, 1900, a box opens that reads, ‘mutt,’ which of course is helpful to nobody.  The timeline was, however, very easy to navigate. There was a box in which you could enter a date and be taken to the timeline of that date for whatever slang you were researching. There was also a zoom function that allowed the user to zoom in and out of the timeline, seeing 10 years worth of slang or a single day’s worth. Overall the website was amusing and easy, but not especially credible or useful, as there was not a huge amount of info being presented, other than the actual slang word and a single date for when it was used.

2 Replies to “Reverse engineering The Timelines of Slang”

  1. I love this!! I am a closet etymology and linguistics enthusiast, and I really like the idea of applying a user interface to the history of colloquialisms and slang. I see what you mean about a single author making the project somewhat less credible than it would with more, but I still think this project is dope. I noticed you didn’t include a link to the website – would that be possible?

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