“IBM experimented with adding Urban Dictionary data to its artificial intelligence system Watson, only to scrub it all out again when the computer started swearing at them.”

How linguists are using the Urban Dictionary (which sounds like it should be rebranded as the Urban Dicktionary, but I digress.) Mostly I use it to decipher my kids’ texts.

With its crowdsourced definitions and high speed of coinage, Urban Dictionary is very much a product of the internet age. But it also continues a long history of recording low-brow language: dictionaries of English slang have been around in some form for centuries. The slang dictionaries of the seventeenth century were considered useful for clueing readers into the language of thieves and cheats, which itself was part of an older tradition of exoticizing the language of the poor and criminal. By 1785, Francis Grose’s Classic Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue extended the slang lexicon beyond the middle-class conception, adding terms such as bum fodder (for toilet paper).

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