As we learnt last week, the Urban Dictionary is a crowdsourced online dictionary of slang words and phrases, constantly growing thanks to voluminous contributions from ordinary users and lenient admissibility shown by multiple editors who have no prescribed guidelines. It is the world’s ultimate descriptive dictionary, and therefore you might be led to think the one million or so daily visitors consist entirely of techno-savvy with-it young people keen to learn and use the new jargon.
For the most part, yes – but there have been some interesting exceptions, including a case where a British high court judge was ruling on a copyright battle between two British rap bands.
Justice Lewison had been asked to rule on a case brought by the band Ant’ill Mob against a rival outfit, Heartless Crew. The latter had recorded a remix of Ant’ill Mob’s 2001 garage hit Burnin , but Andrew Alcee (who wrote the original) claimed that the addition of terms like “shizzle my nizzle”, “mish mish man” and “string dem up” referred to drugs and violence and so “distorted and mutilated” his original tune. The judge said the claim had led to the “faintly surreal experience of three gentlemen in horsehair wigs [himself and two barristers] examining the meaning of such phrases”.
These were murky waters for the judge, and the Urban Dictionary served as higher counsel to determine that “shizzle my nizzle” wasn’t a euphemism for anything lewd or lascivious, it only meant “for sure”; there were no entries for “mish mish man”.
On the basis of these and other findings, the case was dismissed. But surely the victory here was the ultimate one for the descriptive dictionary.