About the translator: John McHale has translated Alice Becker-Ho’s Les Princes du Jargon [The Princes of Jargon], L’Essence du Jargon [The Essence of Jargon] and Au Pays du Sommeil Paradoxal [In Slumberpuzzleland]. He has also translated Guy Debord’s La Véritable Scission dans l’Internationale [The Real Split in the International] (Pluto Press) and Panégyrique Volume 2 [Panegyric Volume 2] (Verso Books).
This groundbreaking, comparative study of dangerous-class slangs in use across ten countries, from Europe to the Americas, brings to light the common influences that have helped to shape them over the last five hundred years. The author begins by examining the social, political and linguistic impact that the coming of the Gypsies had on fifteenth-century Europe. Quotations from a variety of authors show the continuing interaction down the centuries between Gypsies and all kinds of social strata including the criminal or ‘dangerous’ classes. It is the author’s clearly stated aim to build and expand upon the pioneering analysis of slang etymology begun by Marcel Schwob and Georges Guieysse in the 1890s, and to distinguish between argot and the forms of ‘media speak’ that nowadays masquerade as slangs. Central to the work is an extensive glossary of French argot terms, their Gypsy stems and other European slang cognates. The appended ‘Supplement’ finds the author expanding on related themes such as the significance of the French term affranchi and the role of Yiddish, which along with Gypsy, emerge as the mother tongues of European slangs.