Urban Dictionary makes court appearances

The Urban Dictionary  has been thriving for nearly 15 years and  is currently ranked as the 77th biggest Web site in the country (while being run by one man from his laptop). It is a Web-based Dictionary that contains more than seven million definitions as of 2 March 2013. Submissions are regulated by volunteer editors and rated by site visitors.” (Wikipedia)   What makes it so relevant in the words of Aaron Peckham its founder is :  “Dictionaries may be more heavily researched, but the real authority on language and the meaning comes from people who speak the language. The whole point of Urban Dictionary is we are defining our own language as we speak it.” Therefore it’s no surprise that the court has referenced it in many of its cases:  “Courts have relied on Urban Dictionary to define slang words or phrases, such as “blunt,” “kite,”“mugging,” “Detroit Lean,”“freaking,” “sugar free,” “jacked,”“ho,” “don’t trip,” and “shoulder tap.” In a New York Times article Leslie Kaufman investigates.

 It can take years for slang terms to be included in traditional dictionaries, whose editors want to be certain that the words have staying power. By contrast, some new words rush into Urban Dictionary in less than a day. As a result, the site has cropped up in dozens of court cases in recent years, according to a Lexis database of federal and state cases, although the outcome rarely rests solely on a definition.

Reference in legal cases to Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, have become common enough that in its Spring 2010 issue, the law review of St. John’s University in Queens published an article that tried to create standardized rules for the most appropriate uses of crowdsourced Web sites.

Scientific terms and other technical definitions should not be culled from such sites, the article concluded, but it added, “The wisdom of the crowd is an appropriate and valuable reference when consensus itself is at issue, the information is generally known or the content is easily verifiable.”

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