Following up

This summer we posted Rethinking The Dictionary and invited your feedback. To the thousands of users who wrote in, we heard you and we want to address your concerns:

  • You noted that offensive words can be educational and informative.
  • You asked us to protect Urban Dictionary’s irreverence and authenticity.
  • You love that Urban Dictionary can be both useful and funny.

A user from New York said:

The world is full of diverse thoughts and languages. Solving “hate” or “abuse” will not be accomplished by selectively deeming slang words to be unacceptable for a dictionary that attempts to keep up with colloquial language as it becomes popular.

A user from Missouri said:

You provide a service that helps people identify and inform themselves […] While some words are offensive, they NEED to be defined so that people can arm themselves with information and understanding. Children ask parents what bad words mean. Pretending those words don’t exist doesn’t help them or anyone. Informing them and educating on meanings DOES.

A user from Florida said:

You don’t defeat evil by hiding it away, you expose it to the light, because only then can people see how bad it is, and only then can their minds be changed on it.

We agree with you. We know that the real world can be offensive and is full of offensive words. Urban Dictionary is an important tool to understand what those words mean. Knowing an offensive word’s meaning can help fight to end inequality and abuse. But there is a difference between using Urban Dictionary to document the meaning of an offensive word and using it to celebrate or endorse an offensive meaning.

We will not ban certain words, and we aren’t trying to solve hate and abuse in the world. But we will clarify Urban Dictionary’s community guidelines and build better and more consistent ways to enforce them. Our goal is to help users write better definitions, and empower users to flag definitions that do not meet our community guidelines. We hope this will improve the health of Urban Dictionary.

A very small number of users are responsible for the type of content we want to remove. Right now their behavior has an outsized impact on the rest of the site — it harms the feeling of community and silences other voices. We will change that. But the things you love about Urban Dictionary will not change: it is, and will always be, irreverent, funny, creative and useful.

We want to keep hearing from you and welcome your comments in the form below.

Fill out the online form.

Rethinking the Dictionary

Twenty years ago, I started Urban Dictionary as a place for everyone to share their language. It was intended to subvert the authority of the traditional dictionary and to document our messy, weird, and unpredictable language as it evolved. Every day, regular people add thousands of definitions, making it a living cultural document. Since 1999, our community has written over 12 million definitions. I’m proud that Urban Dictionary has become a source of laughter and an irreplaceable reference made by and for the people.

But, over the years, online discourse has changed, and so have the words we’re receiving.

Like other online platforms we’ve been inundated by hate speech and abusive content targeting women, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and other vulnerable groups. Hate speech and abusive content online can cause real harm offline. It can also make people feel unsafe to speak up and share their language, silencing entire groups of people. This is not what we want our platform to be for.

Urban Dictionary plays an important role in defining language on the internet and popular culture. To do this right and to earn the role you’ve entrusted us with, we need to make sure our system measures up to our values. The site has always been a place for people to define the messier edges of language, but we can’t allow it to foster hate.

Words matter — it’s kind of our whole thing here — but actions matter more:

  • We will not allow Urban Dictionary to be a home for hate speech and abusive content. We support the work of Black Lives Matter to dismantle systemic racism. We accept our own responsibility to fight racism and hate, and acknowledge that we have failed to keep abusive content off our site.
  • We take this work seriously and it is our priority. We are reviewing our core processes on how words are added, reviewed, published and removed. We are investing in technology and human review to better enforce our standards. We’ll post updates on our progress here.
  • We will change as hate speech changes. No single fix will work forever. Hate speech and abusive content will evolve, and we’re committed to changing our policies to meet it.

As we rethink the dictionary, we want to hear from you. Urban Dictionary is written by you, and we want you to be involved while we decide what is and isn’t acceptable on it. Please share your thoughts in the form below. In a few weeks, we’ll share what we’ve learned from your feedback.

Thank you,

Aaron Peckham
Founder & CEO

Fill out the online form.

Why Urban Dictionary Comes In Handy On The Witness Stand

The use of slang in court proceedings can be tricky, especially in criminal cases where an uncommon slang term used by a witness can make a difference in a case. New York Times tech reporter Leslie Kaufman and law professor Greg Lastowka talk about how judges and lawyers have turned to sites like Urban Dictionary to help define slang terms and the legal implications of the trend.

Why Urban Dictionary Comes In Handy On The Witness Stand | Talk of the Nation


Urban Dictionary Finds a Place in the Courtroom

Slang has always been a challenge for the courts in cases that involve vulgar or insulting language. Conventional dictionaries lag the spoken word by design. That has lawyers and judges turning to a more fluid source of definitions: Urban Dictionary, a crowdsourced collection of slang words on the Internet.

Urban Dictionary Finds a Place in the Courtroom - NYTimes.com






Street Smart: Urban Dictionary

Almost perversely, Urban Dictionary avoids most of the standard dictionary apparatus. You won’t find information about parts of speech, etymologies or even standard spellings in it. Its sensibility, in fact, borders on the illiterate, which must be a first for a dictionary.

Street Smart - Urban Dictionary - NYTimes.com