EdRLS

The New Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson’s love of slang

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RLS collecting words

I should like to relate how he pounced upon every Americanism I chanced to utter, not deriding it, but shaking it in the teeth of a pleased curiosity as a bit of treasure-trove, a new fragment of speech with an origin, a history, a utility that must be learned; and in other ways to explain what a zest he had for those myriad little interests, little occupations, discoveries, and acquisitions, which make existence a perpetual joy to a fresh and questing mind, but which most adult minds have grown too stiff and dull to value.
(Mrs M.G. Van Rensselaer’ reports on visiting RLS in New York in 1887 in the Century Magazine Nov. 1895).

RLS not only liked collecting words, he also liked to use them:

A fine fellow (as we see so many) takes his determination, votes for the sixpences, and in the emphatic Americanism, ‘goes for’ them.
(‘Apology for Idlers’, 1877)

Me collecting words

At the moment I am rereading the letters making an index for the use of the essay editors of references relevant to the EdRLS essays volumes. The indexes of each of the eight volumes of the Yale letters are invaluable but not without errors (but I think we can allow a percentage of error in all human works) and of course are in eight different places (I did write to Yale University Press asking if I could have the digital files of the indexes to make one merged index to be published on the internet, but they told me this was one of their last books not produced from digital files). The indexer also did not pick up references to ‘my first essay’ and similar allusions. Then of course there are many points of interest to essay editors that an indexer with only a finite number of pages cannot cover: references to style, talk, morality etc. Another useful class of entries are to keywords of significance to the essays: words such as ‘sympathy’, ‘picturesque’, ‘gusto’, ‘romantic’, ‘ideal’ etc.

While doing this (I’m only on volume 6), I’ve also—while I’m at it—been collecting RSL’s use of slang and Americanisms, just for my own interest. Mehew tells us (L6, 207n) that Andrew Lang referred to RLS’s ‘boyish habit of slang’: ‘I think it was he who called Julius Caesar “the howlingest cheese who ever lived’ (Adventures among Books, 46).

Here then is a list of the slang (and similar) words collected so far (with volume and page references). Any comments welcomed.

Slang words used by Stevenson in his Letters

a bird — L3 10

a brick — L5 226

a cad — L3 37

a card — L1 472, 499

a cove — L1 136, 144

a facer — L3 36

a game (writing project; idea, project, act, art, thing for me, thing) — L1 357; L2 331; L3 8, 45n, 123, 142, 159, 324, 350; L4 12, 95, 181, 200; L5 270, 305

a hum — L1 136

a night hawk — L3 40

a scoot — L4 21

a sell — L1 103

a trump — L3 153

a/the cheese — L2 246; L3 101, 186; L5 63

bang goes — L3 46

blame me — L1 197

bloody — L1 391

bully for you — L3 69

bumming (screaming?) — L3 270

cheesy — L4 109

cut up — L1 295

dead on — L3 143

dished — L3 13

fucked out — L3 27

gave it to me — (I appear to have lost this page reference: it’s somewhere in vols 1-5!)

Hell on — L1 415

huffy — L3 23

in a bag — L3 26

jack-tired [Californian slang?] — L3 60

kind of — L3 28

like hell — L3 22

mint-sauce (=money) — L3 325

nuts (= delicious, wonderful) — L3 57; L4 67

off the venue — L3 31

Old Harry — L1 276

plugged up — L2 257

pooped — L1 162

prime — L1 148

rather/all to smash — L1 364, 365

screwed — L1 467

shop — L3 142

slick — L1 136

snoozer — L3 324

split me — L3 13

square off (with determination) — L3 338

stow it — L3 47

stumped — L4 194

the nut (=the best?) — L3 189

the real touch — L4 169

to be caught on the hop — L3 64

to be down on — L1 428

to be in a box — L5 326

to blow the gaff — L3 193

to burk — L5 261

to chortle — L5 225

to clean out — L3 77

to come to the scratch — L3 48

to cripple on — L1 197

to do the trick — L1 250

to gas — L1 248

to go a mucker — L1 459

to play old billy — L1 270

to put in a crasher — L1 156

to scamp — L4 269

to shell out — L4 45

to sponge (on) — L2 257; L3 15

to stand Sam (=pay for the drinks) — L3 332

to stow — L1 505

to sugar it with — L3 66

to take a cut (= make a short journey) — L4 45

to twig — L1 125, 126, 160; L2 87, 159, 245, 246-7, 313; L3 64; L4 220

to walk into — L1 173

twaddle, twaddley — L1 144, 460; L4 67, 202

American slang

Some of those above may be American slang. But I have also indexed separately items that I felt sure were US slang:

a dead hand at — L3 66

boss (adj) — L3 113

cute — L1 124, 159

death on — L1 391, 491, 505; L2 61, 65, 322; L5 308

didn’t I wish…? — L1 201

hand my checks in — L2 52

hatchet — L3 46

hatchet, to bury/dig up the — L3 78, 83

not worth a cent — L3 76

quit — L3 26

real (=very) — L3 16

sick (=ill) — L3 74

some pumpkins — L1 261

stock-dologered — L5 119

swell — L1 388

to raise Ned — L3 66

to raise the partic’lar Harry [Californian?] — L3 66

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Written by rdury

14/09/2013 at 7:00 am

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