Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Is Urban Dictionary Good for the English Language?

We imagine many of you out there have heard of Urban Dictionary and may have even used it before. For those of you who haven't, it's an internet dictionary that was founded in 1999 by Aaron Peckham, who at the time was a computer science major at California Polytechnic State University. Originally, the website was intended to be a source for information on slang terms, as well as cultural words and phrases. Basically, it was a home for all the words that you couldn't find in standard dictionaries. It's also crowdsourced, meaning anyone in the world can submit definitions. These are then approved for publishing by volunteer editors, and readers can also "up-vote" or "down-vote" definitions they agree or disagree with. 

While we were big fans of Urban Dictionary back when it first started since it helped us decipher all that new slang we were hearing the cool kids use, now we're not so sure how we feel about it. We're giving you our list of the good and the bad of Urban Dictionary, but we'll let you decide for yourself.

The Good

Whether you love or hating chewing gum, in some parts
of the world, it's known as "chuddie".
1. Urban Dictionary provides definitions for slang terms you would never find in traditional dictionaries. For example, "chuddie" is a British slang term for "chewing gum", but you'd never know that if you asked the Oxford English Dictonary.

2. The example sentences provided by users are often very helpful at giving you a sense of how the word is used. The top definition for "knackered" has four definitions, but also has a sentence for each that gives you a clear idea of when it's used.

3. Any term can be defined. Anything. Embarrassed to ask what something means because you're pretty sure it's of a sexual nature? Urban Dictionary is there to enlighten you (although we can't guarantee you'll like what you find). 

4. It's constantly updated with new terms. As someone doesn't often use the short abbreviations popularly used in text messages and Twitter, I recently found the need to look up "smh", which was suddenly in every friend's Facebook status. (It's "shaking my head", if you were wondering.)

The Bad

1. Crowdsourcing gone wild. It used to be that Urban Dictionary was primarily composed of actual slang terms and cultural references. Nowadays, it seems to be increasingly filled with more and more inside jokes. 

2. Any term can be defined. We're not prudes, but it does seem like there is an overwhelming majority of sexual terminology making it into the Urban Dictionary these days. We're not convinced they're all even terms people legitimately use and haven't just invented as a joke to show to their friends. A third of the "word of the day" posts from last week was sexual in nature. Surely we invent slang about other things too, no?

3. It's constantly updated with new terms. Maybe too constantly. Perhaps there are so many new entries on the site each day because they never get the chance to actually gain popularity in the real world before they're defined on Urban Dictionary. Sure, sometimes a new word is created by combining two existing words, but do we really need "neckbeard", "tex-sex", "broatmeal", or "sneizure"? Maybe you could fight for neckbeard, but combining "bro" with anything is bad enough, let alone adding it to "oatmeal".


We wouldn't want to live in a world without Urban Dictionary, since it has helped us out so many time in the past. That said, it could be improved with better editing, which is obviously a tall order given its massive size, even with crowdsourcing. We'd love to hear your opinion in the comments below. Let us know, do you think Urban Dictionary is good or bad?