Street Smart: Urban Dictionary

Street Smart: Urban Dictionary

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Almost perversely, Urban Dictionary avoids most of the standard dictionary apparatus. You won’t find information about parts of speech, etymologies or even standard spellings in it. Its sensibility, in fact, borders on the illiterate, which must be a first for a dictionary. It’s also packed with redundancies and made-up entries. This chaos seems to please Aaron Peckham, the company’s founder and chief executive. “Wikipedia strives for its N.P.O.V. — its neutral point of view,” he told me by phone. “We’re the opposite of that. Every single word on here is written by someone with a point of view, with a personal experience of the word in the entry.”

Better, then, to accept at the outset that Urban Dictionary is not a lexicographical project at all. Its wheelhouse is sociolinguistics. It’s a quick way for 9-year-olds to learn without embarrassment what “T&A” is and an equally discreet way for boomers to study the nuances of “booty.” A ranking system means that the best definitions make it to the top of the list. Clunkers swiftly fall to the bottom.

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