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Courts are increasingly turning to Urban Dictionary to clarify modern slang language

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us courthouse-federal

Sure, the Oxford English Dictionary tries to stay on top of current trends by adding new words every year (GIF was its word of the year for 2012), but there's still a vast vocabulary of strange internet slang — that's where Urban Dictionary comes in. The site, which has been around since 1999, has long served as a place for internet denizens to submit all kinds of obscure, vulgar, and ridiculous terminology — and according to The New York Times, Urban Dictionary is frequently cited in court to help "discern meaning and intent in the modern lexicon." The site's been used in cases ranging from a sexual harrassment lawsuit in Tennesse to a financial restitution case in Wisconsin, and it's a trend that some legal minds don't see reversing any time soon.

"If it is Urban Dictionary or hire some linguistic expert to do a survey, it seems like a pretty cheap, pretty good alternative for the court," said Rutgers law professor Greg Lastowka. Of course, the site isn't exactly the sole arbiter of justice in the cases it is used for, and some feel that it's innappropriate to rely on it at all. "Using [Urban Dictionary] in court is a terrible idea; they don't claim to be an authority or a reference," said Tom Dalzell, senior editor of The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. "Some of the stuff on their site is very good, but there is more chaff than wheat. It is a lazy person's resource." As with many crowdsourced sites, taking things with a grain of salt isn't a bad idea.