The man behind Urban Dictionary

Aaron Peckham

Here is the man who created the hippest, trendiest, most with-it dictionary that’s always up-to-date with the latest slang, the newest buzz word. Urban Dictionary is the brainchild of Aaron Peckham.

Peckham, 32, started it back in 1999 when he was a freshman computer science major at California Polytechnic State University. And, boy, has it grown. Now the dictionary contains more than 7.4 million definitions and is checked by millions every month.

It seems to have set a trend, too. Now the free Collins Dictionary displays word submissions by website visitors. That’s following the example of Urban Dictionary, which is entirely composed by website visitors. “Urban Dictionary is the dictionary you write. Define your world,” says the tag line on the home page.

“At first, all the content was by me and my friends, having fun,” Peckham told the New York Times.  Now 2,000 definitions are added daily.

Of course, I would rather check Oxford for the meaning and correct use of a word. But traditional dictionaries with editors take time to admit new words. Words enter Urban Dictionary faster.

Urban Dictionary is the site to go to for the latest slang, the newest words.

That makes it extremely useful in the online world, where new words are cropping up all the time.

And there is no other site quite like it, says CW Anderson.

Anderson, a professor of media culture at the City University of New York, told the New York Times: “The internet is everywhere, but it has its own regional vernacular. And those expressions move into standardized language. That process is occurring — like everything else — far more quickly. What’s different now is that it’s being transcribed and written down.” Urban Dictionary, he said, “allows us to see that process in real time.” “It’s something that other social and online media sites haven’t really done,” he added.

That’s what makes Urban Dictionary special.

Peckham worked for Google for two years before quitting in 2008 to work fulltime on Urban Dictionary.

He works out of his home in San Francisco and has no plans to accept outside funding or sell the site.

He says he rarely edits the site or removes words that might be deemed offensive, unless they are aimed at a specific person or reveal someone’s private information.

This is not a dictionary for the purists or the straight-laced. Many of the words would never see the light of day in a family newspaper.

But it can be fun with readers voting up or down different definitions of the same word. Urban Dictionaries even includes definitions for its founder, Aaron Peckham.

Urban Dictionary definition for Aaron Peckham

Peckham told the New York Times he originally started the site because he did not like the idea that “a printed dictionary, which is updated rarely, tells you what thoughts are OK to have, what words are OK to say”.

Now printed dictionaries’ sales are falling and Urban Dictionary has become “the archive of all the words and phrases of the still-forming culture of social media, like selfie, snapchat and status update,” says the New York Times.

Well done, Peckham. Urban Dictionary is clearly a winner.