I’m no touter of slang. But then I don’t cringe at it either. The “Urban Dictionary”, however, casts a new and interesting light of social media on this sometimes cranky (for English teachers)subject. It’s the brainstorm of one Aaron Peckham, thunk up in 1999 in his freshman year at Cal Poly.
The genre itself is not new. The “Dictionary of the Canting Crew” (about the street patois of professional rogues) appeared in 1699. Nor is it the only such small “b” bible. Jonathan Green’s three volume slang dictionary has 6000 entries, 997 of them slang for penis.
It’s the dirty words that bug the genteel. “Fuck” didn’t make the OED until 1927. (Sir David Frost got in a Tizzy Fit after a “That Was The Week That Was” broadcast in New York at the Modern Language annual convention in 1972 when we had 9 (for the Muses) MLA satire specialists throw an afterparty in General David Sarnoff’s suite in the RCA Building for the TW3 talent. Frost snarled at Philip A. Gove, the editor of Webster III for putting dirty words in his Dick-Shun-Airie. Later that year, when I was teaching in London, Frost took me to lunch at his club and apologized afterI explained the distinction between descriptive (Gove) and prescriptive (Old Frost) grammar!
But Peacham’s UD is to slang what the OED is to regular language. The OED made the Guinness Book of Records with 600,000 entries. The UD has 5.7 million! It on-line site gets a million unique visits a month.80% of them are under 25. Its 3500 volunteer editors field 2000 suggestions a day. In the past 60 days, they wrote 76,000 definitions. Some of them are funny! Take “Unsult”, an insult disguised as a compliment: “You’re much smarter than you look!” But I really relish “Neolorgasm”:”The intensely pleasurable sensation generated by using, hearing, or coining a new word or phrase(that doesn’t suck!).”
Sometimes the UD can be politically useful. For example, when Italy’s randy Prime Minister tried to falsely define “Bunga Bunga” as just “fooling around”, Peacham’s cops nailed the Bullionaire Liar with the real UD definition:”erotic ritual in which a powerful leader plays with several naked women.”
Heh, the OED folks are not worried. They slog along with their long anticipated third edition. (First, 1928. Second, 1989. Third, 2037.) It has taken 300 scholars 22 years (and 34 million pounds) to get from M to Ryvita. Haste makes Waists.
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