The Anatomy of the Urban Dictionary

From the MIT Technology Review:

ScreenHunter_2922 Jan. 05 19.17The Urban Dictionary is a crowdsourced website that records new words and their meanings. It began life in 1999 as a parody of but has since become an important resource on the Web. Indeed, judges in the U.K. famously used the site in 2005 to help them understand slang used by two rappers involved in a dispute.

Part of Urban Dictionary’s appeal is its informal approach, which allows both definitions and descriptions of words. It even allows opinions, which can sometimes be offensive. It captures new words quickly and registers many of the variations that emerge over time. A voting system allows users to show admiration or disdain, revealing words’ popularity.

Today, many millions of users rely on the site to keep them up to date with slang, common usage, and popular culture.

Of course, Urban Dictionary has its shortcomings. In the absence of style guides, editors, and moderators, the content can be vague and inaccurate. Also, little is known about the people who post new words and whether the entries reflect real changes in the language or just those that affect a small subset of people.

So just how good is the Urban Dictionary at capturing new words, and how does it compare with more conventional approaches to producing online dictionaries?

More here.