Anthony Burgess’ Legendary Dictionary of Slang Lives

The reaction most readers have to beginning Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange is: What are half these words? That’s because much of the novel is written using Nadsat, a dystopian teenage subculture language fusing British rhyming slang and Russian that Burgess created for the book. But that wasn’t Burgess’ only foray into the world of slang. Dalya Alberge at The Guardian reports that the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, who received his possessions after his death in 1993, recently discovered part of a manuscript for a dictionary of slang that the prolific author began working on more than 50 years ago.

According to Alberge, Burgess mentions the dictionary in the second volume of his autobiography, but researchers never discovered it within his papers and believed it was lost. Until now. When rummaging through a cardboard box that contained some of his possessions, archivists uncovered the unfinished manuscript, which was tucked under bed sheets. “I suppose the reason for not finding this earlier is that the box seemed to be full of household objects, not literary papers,” Anna Edwards, archivist for the foundation, tells Alberge.

Penguin Books commissioned the dictionary in 1965 and Burgess accepted the offer. But after embarking on the work, he quickly realized how impossible a job it was. In the book Conversations with Anthony Burgess, he says: “I’ve done A and B and find that a good deal of A and B is out of date or has to be added to, and I could envisage the future as being totally tied up with such a dictionary.”

Read more: Smithsonian

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