Unlikely Presence in Court: the Racy 'Urban Dictionary'

Site launched as a joke cited in dozens of cases

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted May 21, 2013 9:23 AM CDT

(Newser) – Your average court may not be able to define "nut" as a verb; it may struggle to figure out why a pair of thieves called themselves "jack boys." That's where the Urban Dictionary comes in. In the former case, its definition of "to nut"—"to ejaculate"—helped a court decide to reject an effort to dismiss a sex harassment case against the manager who used the term. As for the "jack boys," the definition of "to jack" as "to steal" helped settle the question of restitution in a van theft. So reports the New York Times in a quirky look at the online slang dictionary, which the paper reports has been referenced in court dozens of times, per a Lexis database search.

"If it is Urban Dictionary or hire some linguistic expert to do a survey, it seems like a pretty cheap, pretty good alternative for the court," says a law professor. Others, however, doubt the website is dependable. "Some of the stuff on their site is very good, but there is more chaff than wheat. It is a lazy person’s resource," says an editor of the more proper sounding New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Indeed, the site was launched by college student Aaron Peckham in 1999 as a sort of joke; initially, Peckham and friends made up the words they posted to it. Now, it's the 77th most trafficked website in the US. The Times notes that the crowd-sourced site doesn't allow just any definition though: About two-thirds of users' proposed words get turned down by voting users, Peckham says. The Times shares other examples of words that have bubbled up in court, including "grenade" (this one isn't the kind that goes "boom").

Courts are turning to the Urban Dictionary to help settle cases.
Courts are turning to the Urban Dictionary to help settle cases.   (Shutterstock)
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