Monday, April 25, 2011

"U" is for Urban Dictionary

Ever walk by a group of teenagers (or anybody, really) and hear words that sound like English, but you know can't be, leaving you to wonder, "What the hell are they even talking about?  And get off my lawn, damn kids!"

Or ever hear someone use common words in a totally new and unusual way, making their original meaning irrelevant? Or hearing someone use an acronym and wondering if repeating it in front of your boss will get you fired or a promotion?

Yeah, it happens to all of us.

Enter Urban Dictionary, the every-person's personal Rosetta Stone for slang.  Just type in the word you're curious about (providing you know how to spell it, and have nerves of steel to find out what it actually means), and search.

Take nom for instance.  You might have heard someone say they were going to get noms or that they were in the middle of nomming when someone called them.  Curious, you'd just search, and find out that nom is an expression of eating, and derived from "om nom nom."  I use this word a lot myself.  I say that the cat was nomming on my shoelaces, or that something smells like delicious noms, or seems nommable.  There's even a little green monster in an app game for iPhone/Android who is named Om Nom.  The point of the game (which is called Cut the Rope) is that you feed Om Nom candy.  Makes sense, now that you know what nom means.

Since 1999 (so says their website), Urban Dictionary has helped millions define the world around them.  As a writer, I find the site to be fascinating.  I love learning new words, and you never know when using one might come in handy.  I strive to make my dialogue realistic when I write it, and for that, I often have to look things up.  Working with how real people speak adds realism to your stories and connects with your audience.

Any thoughts on Urban Dictionary?  Are you a fan?

xoxo Sarah


  1. I love Urban Dictionary - I'd be very lost without it! It's a treasure trove of slang.

    Great post Sarah!

    A xxx

  2. The Urban Dictionary is the bomb (to use some outdated slang).

    Glad I found you before the A to Z is over.


  3. I've used the urban dictionary. Someone once gave me a can of Steel Reserve as a closing night present and I searched Urban Dictionary to see if it was wise to drink it.

    We used to have the actual dictionaries at work too. I loved the 50's style illustrations.

  4. Actually, I think that using current slang is dangerous in writing. There's no way to tell what will go beyond being a "phrase of the week" and will end up just dating your work or, even worse, cause it to be too confusing to read within a few years time. When my brother was in high school, he loved to use all the current slang on me, because he knew I wouldn't know what he was talking about. That also alienates a certain population of readers, as most will not bother to look up a phrase they don't understand, and, if there are too many, it becomes a barrier. At any rate, the vast majority of the slang my brother used on me is long gone. He probably wouldn't even remember what it meant, if he could even remember using it to begin with. I believe in being relevant, but I think slang usage is something that you have to be extremely careful with.

  5. @Antimony: Glad you enjoyed it! It's good to have it for translation services, lol!

    @Lucy: Thank you for checking out the blog and the follow! You have a new follower as well. :-)

    @Carrie: Hmm, I never thought of using UD to research whether something was safe to consume. Glad you thought of it! I'm a fan of the illustrations as well. :-D

    @Andrew: I completely see your point. Using current slang is a slippery slope, and it can easily irreparably date your material. But, it can be good if you're writing a piece that takes place in a certain time, or a certain area or class. There are some slang sayings that I've heard since living in the South that I never would have known if I didn't live here, for example. Excellent point!

  6. Oh, yes, if you're trying to set a time period, it's completely appropriate. I've tried to keep the language of the kids in my book as close as I can remember to appropriate early 80s slang.

  7. Oh my, early 80's slang? You're making me want to go watch "Sixteen Candles" and "The Breakfast Club." :-P

  8. Urban Dictionary is a great site. I love to read the definitions they give.

  9. Thank you SO much. Now I might be able to understand the HS students I work with!!

  10. @MJ: Glad you like it, too! It's so fun to go thorough them all.

    @BornStoryteller: Haha, be careful! You might not want to know what they're saying. :-P