As we wrote, “Dictionaries are our wizards, places we run to when we come across scary or unfamiliar words or terms.” The events of the past week, largely rooted in accusations of sex and alcohol, sparked much discussion about the meaning of certain terms and led to a new entry in at least one dictionary. (An early warning: some links in this column contain, as they say, material that might be considered inappropriate for certain audiences.)
Some dictionaries try to gauge what interests people, through traffic metrics or blog posts. Looking at them can be an eye-opener, not only for the words people search for, but also for what the dictionaries themselves highlight.
Take Dictionary.com, for a chaste example. The hottest word on the Dictionary.com blog during one of the most tumultuous weeks we’ve seen lately, it’s… “soaking”. It’s true that “soaking” can be slang for all kinds of sexual acts, but Dictionary.com’s reason for attention was Dunkin ‘Donuts, who announced that he was changing his name to ‘Dunkin’, ”To underline his coffee. You could be forgiven if you missed this news in the midst of all the rest.
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After “dipping,” Dictionary.com listed “Marauder,” as searches increased 78% after rock band Interpol released an album of the same name. Sex was high on Dictionary.com’s list, but not in the context you’d expect: Last week featured “Bi Visibility Day,” which “celebrates bisexuality” on September 23 of each year. Searches for “pansexual” increased nearly 400% on Dictionary.com, helped by Janelle Monae’s story Rolling stone she identified with pansexuality.
“Drunk,” “illicit,” “crook” and “sequelae” have also increased over the past week, bringing Dictionary.com closer to the news, at least as journalists see it. “Sequelae”, the plural of “”sequel, “An abnormal condition resulting from a previous disease”, was used by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in her testimony.
By now you might have a better idea of what Dictionary.com’s audience is: given its field, this is often the starting point for schoolchildren, their teachers, and anyone just looking for “a dictionary “. (Dictionary.com uses The Random House Unabridged Dictionary as the primary source.)
More than Merriam webster, who also tracks words in the news based on searches, “Sequela” was on the trend list, but there was no other overlap with Dictionary.com. Instead, the top of MWthe list was “quorum”, whose searches increased by 6,300% at the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on the Supreme Court appointment of Brett Kavanaugh. (I bet you were wondering when that name would surface.)
And yes, the post discussed the meaning of the word “boof”, through its official dictionary definition (“the sound made by a dog: BARK”) and its various uses of slang, concluding with the distinguished conclusion that “contemporary citation evidence is still being collected” about “boof”. As for the “Devil’s Triangle”, MW says: “we haven’t defined a meaning yet.”
Other words about MW ‘the list was “corroborated”, also from the Kavanaugh hearings; “Spartan,” a remnant of cover from Hurricane Florence; and “shaggy”, held even longer from the death of Burt Reynolds. Apparently, it takes more to stay at the top of the top 10 list in MW.
To really get dirty, we can turn to the part we warned you about: Urban dictionary. This is an open source dictionary, “written by you” as its home page says, and we will reproduce the spelling and punctuation of the entries. Most of the people who contribute appear to have the sense of humor or the intellectual capacity of a hormonal adolescent. The new terms are dated, so it’s easy to see what might be triggered by the news or revived. Among the words on the Urban Dictionary’s list of “trends” there is one that was first entered on September 27: “kavanaughed”, defined as “getting drunk and showing your genitals to the whole party. or to an individual ”.
But Urban Dictionary allows multiple definitions of words, which visitors can vote for or against. So to counter this definition of “kavanaughed” is a definition added on September 28, “when you’re about to get a high and prominent position and someone brings up false, unsubstantiated sexual assault allegations.” Two more were added on September 29: “Making allegations without proof and ruining a reputation or a career.” Have his personality assassinated on the basis of an unproven accusation. Usually to a man. Linked to sexuality ”; and “being ambushed, lying and having your name slandered”.
Other recent city dictionary searches related to current events were added long before: “Beach weekWas first introduced in 2008, and is defined as “a weeklong party taking place on, near or around a beach. Rather, it’s an east coast tradition in which newly graduated seniors head to the beach to get belligerently hammered, pair up with chicks, and sunbathe. (This is the most presentable definition.)
But the other 18 of the 20 “trending” words do not seem related to the news at first glance. Among the few whose definitions do not contain profanity, vulgarity or obscenity are “Haruhism”, defined as “the” religion “of people who are fans of the popular animated series” The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya “” and “Turning point,” defined as “A genre of post-indie music. Characterized by authentic 2k9-2k10 post-blog-house groups.
As for almost every other “trending” word on urbandictionary.com, well, let’s just say a lot of those terms or definitions could be from a high school directory.
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Merrill Perlman managed the copy offices in the newsroom of the New York Times, where she worked for twenty-five years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl.