In 1950, Partridge produced A Dictionary of the Underworld, British and American, Being the Vocabulary of Crooks, Criminals, Racketeers, Beggars and Tramps, Convicts, the Commercial Under-World, the Drug Traffic, the White Slave Traffic, and Spivs, one of the first major works to apply scholarly methods to the study of street language. Terms covered include short-hand names for jails, prisons and run-ins with the law, the jargon of criminal activities, including prostitution and narcotics dealing, and the colorful language of itinerants, such as "alberts," the Australian tramps' name for rags they used to wrap their feet when they lacked the money for socks, or "alley apple," an early twentieth-century American term for a brick or piece of pavement that could be thrown during a street fight.
A Dictionary of the Underworld offers definitions for such obscure terms and phrases as "witch-hazel man" (heroin addict), "sarbot" (informer), "eason" (to tell) and "budge a beak" (run away).
New Zealand-born lexicographer Eric Partridge (1894 - 1979) was one of the twentieth century's leading experts on American, English, and Australian slang.
His most enduring works include A Dictionary of Slang (1937), A Dictionary of the Underworld (1950), and Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (1958). At the time of Partridge's death, Meanjin contributor Ralph Elliott wrote: "He made a contribution to the historical study as well as to the practical use of the English language so substantial and so individual in its scholarship, breadth, imagination and wit that his name is now a household word in every country where English is spoken and studied."