Urban Dictionary

Christopher Philippo toff at MAC.COM
Wed Jan 8 13:12:30 UTC 2014

Wortham, Jenna. "A Lexicon of Instant Argot." N.Y. Times. January 3, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/04/technology/a-lexicon-of-the-internet-updated-by-its-users.html

A claim in the article that Urban Dictionary documents regional Internet vernacular in real time in an important way is absurd. The majority of it appears to be immature (and not infrequently disgusting or bigoted) attempts at humor, not actual words anybody uses.  Wortham mentions “recent casual references by figures like Jon Stewart on ‘The Daily Show’”.  That’s misleading: when I’ve heard him mention it, it’s in reference to the disgusting contrived sexual acts people invent solely for Urban Dictionary.  The often terrible examples and the lack of citations or even information about what regions of the world or the Internet where the terms are allegedly being used keeps the site at sub-amateur level.  ADS doesn’t seem to think it is “important" or “the anthropologist of the Internet” (but if I’m wrong, please correct me):

“A freewheeling and erratic compilation of words, invented and real, submitted, defined, and approved by users."

Kaufman, Leslie. "For the Word on the Street, Courts Call Up an Online Witness." N.Y. Times. May 20, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/21/business/media/urban-dictionary-finds-a-place-in-the-courtroom.html

That there are judges citing Urban Dictionary in decisions is fairly alarming - and that it’s cheaper than using an expert because it’s free is not a good reason to use it.  It calls to mind a worse example:

“In determining whether to release the documents [in response to a Freedom of Information Law request], the school searched both Wikipedia and Google, Gauthier said.” http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/college/mensbasketball/ameast/story/2012-03-29/stony-brook-steve-pickiell-contract-secret/53838432/1  The State University of New York Freedom of Information Law Appeals Officer citing Wikipedia is troublesome, and her citing “Google” (i.e. “the Internet”) is akin to citing “the library”.  Ms. Gauthier has a salary of about $90,000 ( http://new-york-employees.findthedata.org/l/2282018/Geraldine-M-Gauthier ) yet does work that wouldn’t be accepted in a report by an elementary school student.  I’ve found writing her about problems of SUNY compliance with FOIL, the NY Personal Privacy Protection Law, and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act to be useless: she’s never responded once.  (Among other things, I once had to file a FOIL request for my own grades for a class !
 because the professor wouldn’t provide them, and my department advisor, the Registrar, and others wouldn’t help me obtain them.  I was charged $30.00 to obtain my own grades for a class.  Nice scam they have going there!)

Christopher K. Philippo

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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