He's got a map for street slang

The best of Aaron Peckham's cultish compendium, known as Urbandictionary.com, was published last month.

December 01, 2005|By KEVIN AMORIM

Aaron Peckham is, by his own definition, an "enginerd." But this is one software engineer who loves earthly argot as much as cyber-coding.

Peckham, 24, compiles the cultish compendium of old-school and fresh-from-the-street slang known as Urbandictionary .com. Last month, the best of the site was published in the real world - or meatspace, as the cyber-dudes call it.

Although the 300,000 Web entries are pared to 2,000 for Urban Dictionary: Fularious Street Slang Defined (Andrews McMeel, $12.95), the 343-page paperback will save clueless parents - or rents, as the kids refer to them - the time of logging on to translate teen conversations.

"Yo, dawg, I was on dawn patrol, so I need to take a disco nap before we go out" is actually a way of saying, "Hey, buddy, I was up early this morning, so I need to sleep before we go out."

"I started hearing from all sorts of audiences that I didn't expect," Peckham says from his home in Mountain View, Calif. "People e-mail me all the time, saying they can understand their kid better because they looked something up on Urbandictionary."

Where else are you going to find the meaning of crunk juice (not as bad as it sounds, if you're of legal drinking age and not driving: Red Bull energy drink and Hennessy)? Shower in a can? That's deodorant.

And, just to keep up with semicurrent events - jumping the couch is when you know someone has gone totally nuts (thank you, Tom Cruise).

Those are among the definitions that made the cut for the book, which took a year and half of Peckham's life (the very latest phrases are on the site). But it all began when he was a freshman at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo in 1999. Peckham created three parody Web sites, including a knockoff of Dictionary.com - but for slang.

In the early days, Urbandictionary.com's entries were written by Peckham's friends. And their friends. And so on. Soon, news of the site spread by word-of-keyboard around the globe.

"Before I knew it, I had a really big audience in Australia," the recent Google hire says.

One of Peckham's proudest moments came in 2003, when, during a copyright dispute between two English rap groups, a British high court judge used the site to decipher the meaning of fo' shizzle my nizzle - the parlance made famous on this side of the pond by hip-hopper Snoop Dogg. (The most politically correct way to translate, according to the book: "I concur with you wholeheartedly, my African-American brother.")

The parody was now a reference.

The site, a perpetual electronic work in progress - just like Wikipedia.org, except more fun - that's "not appropriate for all audiences," receives an average of 1,500 daily submissions. On a busy day, 2,000 submissions cross the e-transom.

Yes, anyone can add a definition for atomic wedgie. (The consensus is a wedgie in which the underwear is pulled over the victim's head. Ouch.) All entries are used in a sentence, too. (Here's ours. Feel free to take it, Peckham: "That big bully gave me such an atomic wedgie, my hair got messed up and I couldn't walk right for a week.")

Peckham says he has 40,000 volunteers working as editors around the world. They have guidelines for posting definitions, on which readers of the site - there are 140,000 unique page views a day - vote for the best and worst meanings. Peckham says he has made up fewer than 20 of the site's definitions - he gives props (proper recognition) to the site's contributors.

The word with the most meanings is emo, with 697 definitions and redefinitions at last count.

"Emo is a genre of music, and I guess it describes a melodramatic teenager," the compiler of e-lexicon says. "It just kind of shows how important emo is to my audience."

As with the music itself, there are subgenres - take emo hair. The entry states, "Hair style that covers the face, usually swept in an angle." Fair enough. But the use-it-in-a-sentence example is already outdated: "Adam Lazzara and Tom DeLonge have sexy emo hair."

Yes, Adam Lazzara. From Taking Back Sunday, which is locked in the studio and not talking to anyone, according to the band's publicist at Warner Bros. (The band has about 50 mentions on the site.) "Ironically, Adam shaved his head in February!" the kind flack e-mailed back.

Peckham uses e-mail, too. He picks the "urban word of the day." Every day. And sends it out free to subscribers.

Kevin Amorim writes for Newsday.

Urbandictionary glossary of terms

Here are some Urbandictionary.com entries -- loosely associated with the holiday season -- to chew on this week, with the most popular definition from the Web site. Dig in:

Turkey drop: "This happens when a dating couple tries the long-distance relationship thing when they go off to university or college in September. Typically, when Thanksgiving rolls around and everyone goes home for the holiday, someone gets dumped. Hence the turkey drop."

Fat as a tick (for after dinner): "Adjective. Bloated and obese. Derives from the state of a tick [parasitic insect] after it has gorged itself on a host mammal's blood. Not complimentary."

Fat on the couch (for the football game): "Adjective describing someone who is in a very lazy mood. Does not want to get up from the couch, or does not want to disturb what they are doing."

Food coma: "The feeling of listlessness, bordering on sleep, that one feels after eating a large meal, often caused by a rush of blood to the stomach and intestines during food digestion."

It's all gravy: "Everything is cool ... equivalent to no worries."

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