Here’s a sequence of appreciative words, all taken from a standard dictionary, and in rising order of enthusiasm: nice; good; great; amazing; fantastic – you get the drift. But it doesn’t mirror what the younger set is using in similar situations in speech and writing (or rather, what passes for writing such as tweets, SMS and such). For them it’s more of cool; fab; awesome – in no particular ascending order. Oh, and it isn’t because the first list wasn’t good enough, it’s just that those words are already taken.
For instance, nice could just be a conversation filler, and not necessarily a complimentary one: “I bought a BMW yesterday.” “Nice.” Good means ‘OK as I am’: “Care for some coffee?” “No thanks, I’m good.” Great has been subverted to mean its opposite, in sarcasm: “Well, that was just flippin’ great!” Question: to what source does one turn to, to learn this new jargon?
Answer: the voluminous, allembracing, and prolific website urbandictionary.com. It was started by techie Aaron Peckham while still a freshman at a California university, not only because he needed to create a website but because he was dissatisfied with the conventional English-language dictionary, as it “was telling us how English [should be] spoken, instead of reflecting how English was actually spoken”. In other words, august tomes like the Oxford English Dictionary, or even the online dictionary.com, loftily prescribed what makes for an authentic word, and made grudging concessions if they had to allow slang words to creep in.
Peckham’s site, on the other hand, would become the mother of all descriptive dictionaries. It has over seven million definitions, with 2,000 new daily entries being added. The ‘Advertise’ page of the website states that, on a monthly basis, Urban Dictionary averages 72 million impressions and 18 million unique readers, and features words from over 30 languages. All entries are reviewed and rated by volunteer editors. As T he New York Times said “the site exists so people can ‘crystallize and critique entire experiences or social subsystems’”; the Advertising Age proposed a “new rule” for naming brand extensions: Check Urban Dictionary First.