Ever wondered if online slang hub Urban Dictionary would be used as a reference in court cases? The day has already arrived. The website has become a tool used by lawyers and judges to navigate the ever-changing world of language when dealing with legal matters.
The New York Times reports that the user-sourced website, approaching its 14th anniversary this December, has been used in matters in the high and low courts. Last month, an appeals courts hearing a financial restitution case in Wisconsin used Urban Dictionary to define the word “jack” – as in “to rob” – because the perpetrators in the hearing called themselves the “jack boys.”
Earlier this year in Tennessee, the website was referenced in a case against a manager of a company who was charged with s-xual harassment by a female employee. The move to dismiss the matter was rejected based on the findings on the dictionary site and other evidence.
Started by then-college freshman Aaron Peckham in 1999, the San Francisco-based CEO didn’t seem terribly surprised that his bedroom project has bubbled over to becoming a necessary tool for justice. However, he admits the site started as a joke. “Friends and I would sit around and make up words,” said Peckham, 32, to the Times.
With over 2.3 million definitions and 110 million hits per month, Peckham’s popular site is driven by users contributing slang where at least five users must vote on a term for it to be published.
“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,” added Peckham.
Photo: Urban Dictionary