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6 Times Judges Consulted Urban Dictionary

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Since 1999, Urban Dictionary has been the online source for anyone trying to understand the latest slang terms. The crowdsourced dictionary, which now boasts millions of entries, is the go-to destination for anyone wondering what, exactly, it means to "Netflix and chill," or why their friends insist this weekend's gathering will be "lit."

But the site has also played a surprising role in courtrooms, as judges refer to the online dictionary to help them make decisions, and shed light on their written opinions. Here are six words and phrases whose Urban Dictionary definitions popped up during legal disputes.

1. "CATFISHING" 

"Catfishing," a term coined by filmmaker Nev Schulman, first entered the lexicon in 2010. Three years later, Indiana's Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson wrote that two roommates' attempt to humiliate their former roommate by posing as a young woman online fit Urban Dictionary's definition: "[t]he phenomenon of internet predators that fabricate online identities and entire social circles to trick people into emotional/romantic relationships (over a long period of time).'" The court ultimately ruled against the young men, who were challenging their school's decision to suspend them.

2. "HOE" 

In 1999, Nevada resident William Junge thought he'd honor his beloved ride, a Chevy Tahoe, with a personalized license plate. Alas: "TAHOE" was already taken, so Junge settled for the abbreviated "HOE." Junge renewed his plate every year until 2006, when a DMV employee who had consulted Urban Dictionary rejected the plate as offensive. After losing in a district court, the DMV brought the case to the Nevada Supreme Court. In their 2009 ruling, the state's justices determined that First Amendment rights extend to license plates too; by rejecting the plate based on one state employee's reading of Urban Dictionary, the Court argued that the DMV failed to show substantial evidence that the word is unacceptable. Urban Dictionary "allows, if not encourages, users to invent new words or attribute new, not generally accepted meanings to existing words," the justices wrote. "… A reasonable mind would not accept the Urban Dictionary entries alone as adequate to support a conclusion that the word 'HOE' is offensive or inappropriate." Junge got to keep his plate. 

3. "SHAKE IT LIKE A POLAROID PICTURE"

In 2012, controversial yogi Bikram Choudhury sued yoga instructors Mark Drost and Zefea Samson, founders of a studio called Evolation Yoga. Choudhury claimed that Drost and Samson, both graduates of his teacher training course, had stolen his signature method—a sequence of 26 poses done in a room heated to 105°F—which he outlined in a copyrighted 1979 instruction manual. Unfortunately for Choudhury, copyrights don't extend to ideas or systems—only to the expression of those ideas and systems. In their 2015 written decision, the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, repeatedly compare the sequence of poses championed by Choudhury to other processes not subject to copyright, such as recipes and "routinized physical movements, from brushing one's teeth to pushing a lawnmower to shaking a Polaroid picture." The Court concedes that works of choreography are copyrightable, and citing Urban Dictionary and WikiHow, admits that both "pushing a lawnmower" and "shaking it like a Polaroid picture" have been turned into dance moves. But, the Court argues, you can't print tooth-brushing or Polaroid-shaking instructions in a pamphlet, call them choreography, and claim a monopoly on those processes; the ideas behind the sequence of steps are uncopyrightable. 

4. "JACK"

In 2011, Devante Lumpkins and his two friends stole a minivan and used it to rob people at gunpoint. After police arrested Lumpkins, they recovered the stolen vehicle, a 2007 Hyundai Entourage. Because the van was damaged—the seat covers were burned, the mirror and CD player were destroyed, and the tires were worn—the court that convicted Lumpkins ordered that he also pay $1700 in restitution to the van’s owner. Unfortunately for Lumpkins, his crew's adopted name—"the Jack Boys"—didn't help his case. A Wisconsin court of appeals upheld the damages Lumpkins owed [PDF], citing Urban Dictionary's definition of "jack" in the written opinion (“to steal or take from an unsuspecting person or store”). The court ultimately decreed that Lumpkins owed the $1700, because the damages to the van wouldn't have occurred had he not, well, jacked it in the first place.

5. "STFU"

Richard G. Kopf, a federal judge in Nebraska, used to blog about the law in his spare time. In a 2014 post, he criticized the Supreme Court's majority opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. "In the Hobby Lobby cases, five male justices of the Supreme Court, who are all members of the Catholic faith and who each were appointed by a Republican president, decided that a huge corporation … was a 'person' entitled to assert a religious objection to the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate because that corporation was 'closely held' by family members." Kopf wrote that the Supreme Court should stop “deciding hot button cases that the Court has the power to avoid,” as that gives the appearance of a political agenda (even if one doesn’t actually exist), concluding that the justices should "STFU"—and linking to Urban Dictionary's definition of the pointed acronym.

6. "HATERS GONNA HATE"

In a 2015 lawsuit, songwriter Jesse Braham claimed Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" had ripped off his 2013 tune "Haters Gonna Hate." Braham was shut down by presumed T. Swift fan (and U.S. Magistrate judge) Gail J. Standish, who dismissed the $42 million suit, writing, "At present, the Court is not saying that Braham can never, ever, ever get his case back in court. But, for now, we have got problems, and the Court is not sure Braham can solve them." Standish went on to explain that Braham was hardly the first to use the phrases "haters gonna hate" and "players gonna play," citing a handful of Internet memes, 3LW's 2000 hit "Playas Gon' Play," and, yes, Urban Dictionary.

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How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
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Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

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Designer Reimagines the Spanish Alphabet With Only 19 Letters
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According to designer José de la O, the Spanish alphabet is too crowded. Letters like B and V and S and Z are hard to tell apart when spoken out loud, which makes for a language that's "confusing, complicated, and unpractical," per his design agency's website. His solution is Nueva Qwerty. As Co.Design reports, the "speculative alphabet" combines redundant letters into single characters, leaving 19 letters total.

In place of the letters missing from the original 27-letter Spanish alphabet are five new symbols. The S slot, for example, is occupied by one letter that does the job of C, Z, and S. Q, K, and C have been merged into a single character, as have I and Y. The design of each glyph borrows elements from each of the letters it represents, making the new alphabet easy for Spanish-speakers to learn, its designer says.

Speculative Spanish alphabet.
José de la O

By streamlining the Spanish alphabet, de la O claims he's made it easier to read, write, and type. But the convenience factor may not be enough to win over some Spanish scholars: When the Royal Spanish Academy cut just two letters (CH and LL) from the Spanish alphabet in 2010, their decision was met with outrage.

José de la O has already envisioned how his alphabet might function in the real world, Photoshopping it onto storefronts and newspapers. He also showcased the letters in two new fonts. You can install New Times New Roman and Futurysma onto your computer after downloading it here.

[h/t Co.Design]

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