The flash language dictionary

Topic: First Contacts
Student activity

Students consider if there is such a thing as dangerous language.

This is the student activity 1 of 6 of the Talkin’ like a convict learning activity.

Task No. 1

The flash language dictionary

James Hardy Vaux called his dictionary A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language and wrote at the beginning of it:

 I trust the Vocabulary will afford you some amusement from its novelty.

Answer these questions:

  • Why would he use the words amusement and novelty?
  • Why was the dictionary written?
  • Who was reading it?

Look at the advertisement placed in the Hobart Town Gazette for 8 December 1821 as Mr Williamson has lost or mislaid his copy. (Notice how the letter ‘s’ looks different today!) It is in the bottom left hand corner of the newspaper page here.

Typed newspaper text
Image 1: Detail from Hobart Town Gazette 8 December 1821 

The dictionary was designed for solicitors like Mr Williamson and the courts but it was also read widely by lots of different people. People of influence were then worried about the words becoming part of the mainstream language as more people used the terms.

Answer these questions:

  • Why would they be worried?
  • Does a language stay the same throughout history?
  • Do we have new words added to our language today?

At that time in history the dictionary was considered to be dangerous to children.

Answer these questions:

  • Why did some people think the dictionary might be dangerous to children?
  • Can language be dangerous?

Find examples of ‘dangerous language’ in our world today.