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For Street Slang in Court Cases, Urban Dictionary Rules

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on May 30, 2013 2:26 PM

Word on the street says that courts nationwide are turning to Urban Dictionary to fill the gaps in their knowledge of slang, leaving some of us to wonder: Is Urban Dictionary a real thing now?

If actual adult judges -- the professional ones charged with interpreting the laws that govern our society -- are treating this website like it's Webster's, then maybe it is a real deal.

Rap Music Slang Confuses Judges

What's behind this trend? It may be the generation gap. For example, the average age of justices serving on the U.S. Supreme Court is about 67 years and 6 months, making their cultural frame of reference a bit more "Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" and less "All That."

So it isn't surprising that judges are bamboozled when it comes to witnesses and defendants using terms like "nut" in sexual harassment cases, reports The New York Times.

Not wanting to seem uncool, judges have been cracking open Urban Dictionary, a site which curates various colloquial terms and slang phrases like "krunk," in order to understand the context and make proper rulings.

Wait Brah, This Is Hella Against the Rules

Chill out broham, the stodgy old Federal Rules of Evidence provide that some books and trade publications, like dictionaries, are "self-authenticating" and don't need to be verified by other evidence.

Using a dictionary to present evidence is also not hearsay under federal and common law rules, as long as a judge or expert witness vouches that it is reliable.

So yes, Urban Dictionary is totes legit in jurisdictions where judges consider it a reliable publication, similar to a "Gray's Anatomy" textbook.

Some Detractors Be Sippin' Hatorade

Legal noobs and experts alike are having mixed reactions to judicial officers using Urban Dictionary, with some worried that the content is too diffuse to be reliable, according to The Verge.

Tom Dalzell of the New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English thinks that courts using Urban Dictionary is "a terrible idea" and that it is "a lazy person's resource," reports the Times.

Maybe Dalzell and others are a little butthurt that judges aren't using their slang dictionaries. Or maybe the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is our most terrible (and laziest) federal appellate court, as they cited Urban Dictionary in 2007 to explain the term "finna."

If Urban Dictionary remains prominent, perhaps Justice Scalia will soon abandon Teutonic words like "kulturkampf" for something more culturally relevant.

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