Magazine article Information Today

Word Crazes: Slang Dictionaries

Magazine article Information Today

Word Crazes: Slang Dictionaries

Article excerpt

If you think being "off your hinges" is a bad thing, you need to spend time reading the Urban Dictionary (http://www.urban You'll learn that "off the hinges" is like the phrase "off the hook" (current slang that means "great" or "outstanding").

The Urban Dictionary's motto is "define your world" because users can submit their own definitions. You even can submit illustrations and sound files. The site calls itself "a living catalog of human interaction and popular culture created by hundreds of thousands of people, and read by millions." Yahoo! bills it as the most popular slang dictionary on the Web. But it certainly isn't the only one; Yahoo! lists about 50 other "slanguage" sites. Here's the 411 on a few of them.

Not Unlike a Dictionary

"Slang, webspeak, colloquialism: [Y]ou name it, if you know a word that should be in the dictionary but isn't, submit it, and we'll post it on this site," states a note on Pseudodictionary (http://www.pseudodic

But unlike many other slanguage sites, Pseudodictionary tries to keep it clean. "[Y]ou can submit as many words Las] you like, just keep in mind that only words [that] don't break any of the guidelines will be added to the site," according to the editors. "Basically, just make sure the words you submit aren't drug related, overly sexual, [descriptive of] genitals or body functions, and aren't racist or hateful. We want to keep the site lighthearted and fun for everyone, so words like those won't be added." Even without the naughty words, Pseudodictionary contains more than 21,000 entries.

You won't find nearly as many words and phrases at the DoubleTongued Word Wrester (http://www In fact, the Double-Tongued database has less than 1,000 entries, but it uses a more scholarly approach. Entries include editorial notes, etymologies, and numerous citations for "slang, jargon, foreignisms, loanwords, rare words, Englishes, and English dialects," according to the editor, a lexicographer for Oxford University Press in New York. The goal of Double-Tongued is to record "undocumented or under-documented old and new words from the fringes of English."

Here's an example from the fringes: "Fumblerooski" is a football play in which the quarterback pretends to fumble and a teammate picks up the ball. Double-Tongued includes several citations that show newspaper reporters using the word as far back as 1984.

Another site that cites is Word Spy ( It's devoted to lexpionage: the sleuthing of new words and phrases. Editors identify new words that appear multiple times in newspapers, magazines, books, and other sources. For instance, Word Spy identifies "piggybacking" as a new term for using a wireless Internet connection without permission:

Piggybacking, makers of wireless routers say, is increasingly an issue for people who live in densely populated areas like New York City or Chicago, or for anyone clustered in apartment buildings in which Wi-Fi radio waves, with an average range of about 200 feet, can easily bleed through walls, floors and ceilings.

-Michel Marriott, "Hey Neighbor, Stop Piggybacking on My Wireless," The New York Times, March 5, 2006

Word Spy also includes a miscellany of thought-provoking Words on Words, such as this quotation from American linguist Michael Adams: "Ephemeral English is the living language, whether or not scholars and teachers approve, the language in which folks construct their everyday lives, the language of emotion, of work and play. By contrast, much of the standard vocabulary, rather than living, merely survives."

Specialized Slanguage

Of course, ephemeral English is often specific to a certain time, place, and/or subculture. Here's a sampling of online dictionaries focusing on specialized slang:

* Twists, Slugs and Roscoes: A Glossary of Hardboiled Slang

( .html), a dictionary of 1940s slang as spoken by hard-boiled detectives Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, and Mike Hammer

* BuzzWhack (http://www. …

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