COURTS RECOGNIZING THE URBAN DICTIONARY. I used the Urban Dictionary website (www.urbandictionary.com) when I was looking for definitions of “innit” and “bruv” for this post. Leslie Kaufman had an article in the New York Times (May 20) about the use of the Urban Dictionary by courts. Kaufman says that the Urban Dictionary has already been cited in dozens of cases. Back in the day, there were threshold issues in getting dictionaries and other reference books accepted by courts. This wikipedia article on “learned treatises” indicates the difficulties:
“A learned treatise, in the law of evidence, is a text that is sufficiently authoritative in its field to be admissible as evidence in a court in support of the contentions made therein.Under the common law, such evidence was at one time considered hearsay….”
The rapid achievement of legal authority by the Urban Dictionary website, which was only founded in 1999 by Aaron Peckham, a college freshman, can be explained by necessity. The language changes rapidly and courts often have to determine slang expressions. Leslie Kaufman gives the example of a Wisconsin court which had to consider what a convicted robber and his companion meant when they referred to themselves as the â€œJack Boysâ€. The court noted that the Urban Dictionary gave “to steal” as one of the meanings of “jack”.