Urban Dictionary and the Courts
Posted: 21 May 2013 10:32 AM   [ Ignore ]
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New York Times: Do you know what “catfishing” means? Courts have been turning to Urban Dictionary to define words like this in cases involving everything from sexual harassment to armed robberies to requests for personalized license plates.

Last month, Urban Dictionary was cited in a financial restitution case in Wisconsin, where an appeals court was reviewing the term “jack” because a convicted robber and his companion had referred to themselves as the “jack boys.”

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Posted: 21 May 2013 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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In the last year alone, the Web site was used by courts to define iron (“handgun”); catfishing (“the phenomenon of Internet predators that fabricate online identities”); dap (“the knocking of fists together as a greeting, or form of respect”); and grenade (“the solitary ugly girl always found with a group of hotties”).

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Posted: 22 May 2013 10:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I guess it’s a little like turning to the ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’ to ascertain that a word is used in a certain sense by the general public. I’m not that familiar with Urban Dictionary. I’m sure at one point there was no control at all over submitted content. Has that changed? If not it seems a rather shaky basis on which to construct a legal opinion. (Just visited the site. I still see no filtering or checking.)

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Posted: 22 May 2013 11:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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aldiboronti - 22 May 2013 10:56 AM

I guess it’s a little like turning to the ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’ to ascertain that a word is used in a certain sense by the general public. I’m not that familiar with Urban Dictionary. I’m sure at one point there was no control at all over submitted content. Has that changed? If not it seems a rather shaky basis on which to construct a legal opinion. (Just visited the site. I still see no filtering or checking.)

Just voting. So iron gets two definitions which are similar

1.  iron
A gat, peice, heat, or any kind of handgun.
You better watch how you step or you’ll get this iron to your mind. 183 up, 65 down

2.  iron

1. a pistol or other firearm 59 up, 27 down

Catfishing as an internet predator gets 247 up, 74 down whereas the idea that it is several pubic hairs sticking out of one’s zipper gets only 81 up, 171 down

Not statistical rocket science, I know.

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Posted: 22 May 2013 12:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Oecolampadius - 22 May 2013 11:42 AM


Catfishing as an internet predator gets 247 up, 74 down whereas the idea that it is several pubic hairs sticking out of one’s zipper gets only 81 up, 171 down

Not statistical rocket science, I know.

No, but not a bad guide actually. Thanks, oeco, I wasn’t aware the site had a weighting system.

[ Edited: 23 May 2013 05:28 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 22 May 2013 12:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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The question is what are those votes based on? As the NYT article points out, there’s pretty good evidence to show that funny definitions get a lot of up votes.

Urban Dictionary is a neat resource, but like any resource, you have to know what it’s limitations are. Even the OED suffers from flaws (e.g., entries that haven’t been updated in over a hundred years, omissions of entire classes of words). Urban Dictionary has less authority and more problems than more traditional dictionaries, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful. I’m less concerned with the idea of judges using Urban Dictionary and more concerned that they’re using it in the right way.

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