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From the New York Times:
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.
As far as story details go, that’s about all you need to know. The courts are referencing Urban Dictionary because hillbillies and gangbangers are using words that stuffy old judges and lawyers don’t understand. Apparently terms like “poo parkour,” i.e. “The action of climbing over or under the divider in a public restroom when you run out of toilet paper as to gain access to the toilet paper in an adjoining stall,” don’t get tossed around the courthouse water cooler too often. Even still, I’m not sure it would be an admissible legal excuse for unknowingly crawling into an occupied airport stall.
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”).
I would have loved to be a fly on the wall of whatever case the word “grenade” was being used at. Unless it was a sexual assault, then it’s just sad.
The use of Urban Dictionary by the courts is a welcome development for yours truly. Though I obviously no longer live with my parents, as a child of two lawyers, and someone who was super cool and totes down with the street talk lingo, as you can tell by my use of “totes,” I was often called upon to answer slang questions. Sometimes those exchanges were awkward, none more so than the one I had with my mother while I was watching TV with a group of friends, home from college one summer.
“Hey can I ask you guys a question?” my mother inquired.
“What’s up?” I replied innocently.
“So I have this client in my rape case,” she began in a tone that was disturbingly casual.
Since violent sexual assault was not as common a conversation topic for my friends and I as it apparently was for my mother, with the exception of our never ending debate on whether or not the Ice Man Chuck Lidell could rape at will our largest friend (We contend yes. He vehemently disagrees. Ice Man could get that ass, buddy. Deal with it.), the group sat in stunned silence, except for me.
“What,” I groaned.
“I have this rape case and in one of the testimonies the victim says, uh,” she thumbed back through the pages in her hands, searching for whatever phrase was about to make me want to jump out of the window. “Right, she says ‘he got his nut’ in reference to the attacker.”
My mother read the words “he got his nut” so methodically that it might have been hilarious had those words not been coming from my own fucking mom. This was confirmed by the reactions of my friends, which ranged from stifled and disbelieving to outright laughter.
“What does that mean, ‘got his nut?'” She asked again, now smirking along with my friends. I suspected she knew what she was doing. Even if she didn’t, every extra second was more salt poured into a now gaping emotional wound.
“Well it doesn’t mean he had some pecans delivered!” I shouted with disgust.
“Does it mean ejaculate?” she asked cautiously.
My friends were dying.
“YES! Jesus Christ! Anything else?” I cannot implore enough how sarcastic and rhetorical that question was meant to be. Still, she flipped through the pages to see if there was any other sexual slang she was curious about, maybe something about blumpkins or donkey punching. Who knows what horrors were waiting for me? I wasn’t waiting around to find out.
“Okay we’re leaving,” I flatly declared, getting up from my seat. My mom gave me a look as if to say, “What?” Oh she knew what. Goddammit she knew. This sort of thing was a common enough occurrence that were we an ’80s sitcom family the scene would have ended with me saying, “Oh Mom, you and your crazy rape cases.”
That isn’t how the scene ended. It instead ended with me hurrying my friends out the door, demanding to buy liquor so I could erase that memory as quickly and thoroughly as possible. My friends, meanwhile, spent the rest of the evening wondering often and aloud how and when my mother would be applying her new vocabulary word to everyday life.
Suffice it to say I’m happy to see the courts becoming more resourceful, because apparently history is repeating itself.
Two weeks earlier, a court in Tennessee noted that a phrase used by a manager at a supply chain logistics company — “to nut” — was defined by Urban Dictionary as “to ejaculate.” After weighing that and other evidence, it rejected a motion to dismiss a sexual harassment claim by female employees.
Children of lawyers, rejoice.
[via The New York Times]