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Urban or M-W?

SuperMarioGirl's picture

 An interesting question came up in my group yesterday when I was talking about the value of both the Merriam-Webster online dictionary and the Urban dictionary. Which one would I choose to reference from here on out if I could only have one?

My first answer was obviously M-W, because it's universally accepted as a credible English dictionary. The definitions are strictly factual, and quite limiting in their meanings. It's difficult to place the words in context. When studying for the SAT a few years ago, I spent a lot of time looking at dictionaries, and even if I had a word's definition memorized, I lacked a thorough understanding of it because there was almost no context to look at. So conversationally, M-W doesn't do much for me.

When you really think about it, most conversations are filled with slang terms. I find myself looking up words in the Urban dictionary far more often than in M-W, and when I do use M-W, I still don't usually have enough of a grasp on what the word means to fully comprehend what my friend was saying, or to be able to use it in future conversation. Though Urban is filled with useless, offensive, and disgusting definitions of slang words that will be forgotten over time, some of these words will be used more and more often, eventually finding themselves into the M-W and other dictionaries. I would like to discuss the etymology of gross to use as an example. The meanings we are most commonly familiar for gross are disgusting and a large measurement. Amazingly, just a few decades ago did people start using gross to connotate disgusting. My Great Aunt Lisa was the first of her friends and family to use the term in the 60s (it was first coined in '58), and they all thought she was stupidly misusing the word, but really she was just one of the first pioneers who helped make disgusting an official definition of gross. Though many other dictionaries recognize gross to mean what it is most commonly used as today, M-W still doesn't. My point is that, though so many of Urban's words will eventually fade with time, many of the words there are going to be considered official definitions in another generation or two or three. 

For this and the fact that Urban is conversationally valuable, I decided that actually Urban dictionary is the one I would choose. But then after class I changed my mind. Though Urban is helpful, entertaining, and used more often by myself, I and the people around me have creative minds. Slang will pervade and be understood no matter if there is an Urban dictionary or not. With just a M-W, words are still maleable, and their meanings always have the ability to change within our conversations. M-W is useful when words are actively explored in conversation. Active conversational and academic use of words learned in the M-W promotes intelligence and social salience, while Urban only promotes the latter (if even). 


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