The Urban Dictionary has come a long way since it was first created by Aaron Peckham in 1999. The dictionary started its journey on the communications highway as a university side project and handbook for local college slang…which turned into a stand-in of Ask Jeeves.com when Peckham was 18 years old and in his 1st year of Computer Science classes at California State Polytechnic University.
A short while later, it was re-made into a fresh, off-centre version of Dictionary.com and all dictionaries.
Today the Urban Dictionary is the world’s go-to source for the meaning & definitions of slang and the people’s choice for new terms in popular culture. A movie rating would read somewhere between PG-13 and X-Rated.
Pop bands and rappers regularly search the Urban Dictionary for ideas and wordplay. It has been used in High Court by judges in the UK, at trial by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and as a guide for some state DMVs to find out if applications for car license plates are suitable.
Even the design teams at Twitter turned to the Urban Dictionary to build their own text and training systems. There are now 2,661,625*+ definitions for 1,620,438*+ different words. (source*MIT Technology)
20+ years ago, the internet and the Urban Dictionary were new inventions in applied science and communications.
Both were looked at as “interesting” but curious side shows – works in progress with a misty, unclear future.
At the time, the first graduating class of Millenials (Gen Y) was just entering the last year of high school and Gen Z did not even exist. Established dictionaries like Merriam-Webster and The Oxford English Dictionary had fixed rules for words to be included in their pages, plus slow peer review, academic steps focused on dense, outdated words tied to history and days gone by.
Fast forward 1.5 generations… the internet is now everybody’s main form of communication, information, services, news, messaging, transactions and just about everything else.
The Urban Dictionary has grown right along with it.
Express Yourself. The Urban Dictionary by the numbers:
22nd most visited website in U.S.**
Data: 45% of users age 18 – 24*
SEO: 61% of all traffic is from search engines.
Users: 34+ million per month.*
(Source: *Google Analytics, **Quantcast)
There are 6 reasons why the Urban Dictionary is still around and thriving long after thousands of websites which started at the same time have gone to the big cloud in the sky.
1) The dictionary is free to use and explore. No paywalls, no subscription fees, no credit card charges. Anyone from around the world can visit the site day or night…at no cost.
(Urban Dictionary App – free download/Android)
2) The slogan for the Urban Dictionary is “define your world” and it is built on a “crowd sourcing” model.
This is a fancy web developer’s way of saying ideas, goods, services and even money (crowd funding) which come from outside. Anybody from age 8 – 80 is welcome to put forward a word* (or phrase) and definition. At one time, a valid email address was required. This is no longer necessary.
There are words from as far away as Arabia and Africa, and the all-ages, all-peoples system means the dictionary gets a steady stream of new suggestions, connects to a worldwide audience and stays right up-to-date. (*headword)
…Add your word to the UD https://my.urbandictionary.com/add.php
3) The dictionary has no in-office editors. Instead, there are thousands of “volunteer” editors. Definitions and descriptions of headwords are accepted or rejected by the number of “publish” or “don’t publish” votes they receive from the volunteer editors. There are three options each of them can choose: “add it,” “keep out” or “I can’t decide.” The vote to publish style creates more open judging and turns out a wider variety of posted definitions.
4) There is no style guide and there are no moderators patrolling the Urban Dictionary. Translation: the site is not about pretty looks or being PC. It is about being lite on internet flash and staying true to how human beings really speak.
The in-house content rules are plain and upfront. Racial and sexual words or “definitions are allowed. Racism and sexism is not. Using the names of celebrities or public figures is okay. Use of real names is not. No hate speech, no bullying, no statements that discriminate and no words (or phrases) that might spark violence.
Free speech is a basic human right. The equal view of freedom on the internet is baked into the web. Communication is not about agreeing with or liking what somebody else says. The Urban Dictionary thinks its good to at least know what they are saying.
5) In spite of what the name suggests, the Urban Dictionary is not a printed book. It is an online operation. Right now, there are three paperback/hardcover versions for sale on Amazon.com.* One is from 2012. The other two were printed in 2005 and 2007.
All of them are much shorter, much smaller versions of what the full web version was like at the time. The dictionary lives in main form on the internet.
In a digital age, this just makes sense. Being online is a win for all, the company and the people. The dictionary can grow to any scale and is not limited to a fixed print size. The listings can also expand at the ready, real-time speed it takes the UD team to vote and upload new words. Just as important, the online address means the full collection of words is always available, anywhere…any time.
(*subject to change)
6) The Urban Dictionary began as prank idea, a lively, earthy option to all the other stiff and proper dictionaries. 7,666 plus days later, www.urbandictionary.com is still a place for raw laughs. Just as on day one, the site has kept the same energy and DNA. “ A visit to the home page reveals loopy words of the day and a daily “trending” list of terms like “watermelon sugar,” “ain’t got” and “pimp nails.”
The internet has and will always like domains which are fun and uplifting.
Fun fact: On the web, traffic and and site visits are increased by catchy visuals, humour or “something extra.” The business and tech schools call this “value added.” The free virtual reward means site visitors to the UD leave informed AND with a bonus smile.
Altogether the whole six-piece blend of tech smarts, site democracy, word savvy and entertainment adds up to a plain-speaking, plain-dealing, free to use, modern communications tool that is open to all cultures, open at all hours and touches close to half a billion users a year.
Aaron Peckham’s small college idea has become a global big deal because it is still in touch with its freeweb roots, has the street cred of sourcing from the people, is open to new ideas and has the guts to stand for free speech.
The Urban Dictionary: all-round jokester, 21st Century educator, freestyler, culture-connector and mood lifter.
Grade: Sometimes raunchy, often smutty, always user friendly.
The Urban Dictionary website https://www.urbandictionary.com/
The Urban Dictionary 2005, 2007, 2012 can be purchased online at Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/
Kindle versions are available for sale online from $5.59 USD*
(*Prices and availability subject to change)
Copyright (C) 2021. RaphaelClarence/La Source Online. All rights reserved.
Photo/Image credits. Internet graphic, X61.sh. Urban Dictionary, Freshest. California State Polytechnic University, Brian Clements.
Singer/Celebrity, Peter Tea. Urban Dictionary Calendar.