The reason I ask this is because an answer I gave to a question quoted an Urban Dictionary definition and received 2 downvotes without any explanation as to why. Could anyone please tell me what (if anything) is wrong with my answer?

  • 5
    No one knows why anybody downvotes. We can only guess. Just speculating here: I wouldn't be surprised if it were because of the use of UD, but it's more likely they just didn't like your answer 'question-statement' (for whatever reason). You'll probably get a more substantive response to this questno if you ask as a comment there.
    – Mitch
    May 17, 2015 at 20:18
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    Urban Dictionary is crowd-sourced, like this one, but with decidedly less oversight. I would vote we send all our troll posts there.
    – Robusto
    May 18, 2015 at 17:15
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    UD is a great source. A quick scan of the definitions give you a reliable definition of the term. Moreover, it also provides variant definitions, and the up/downvotes give you an idea of how many people would accept those definitions. Note the wisdom of crowds. The crowd is rarely wrong. (E.g. The audience on Millionaire has been right 95% of the time - much more than the experts are).
    – Hal
    May 20, 2015 at 0:19
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    @Hal, you should add that as an answer.
    – Dog Lover
    May 20, 2015 at 1:01
  • See also meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/2440/…
    – Hugo
    May 20, 2015 at 7:42
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    UD is a great source. If you want to know what sex acts an everyday word or phrase is a euphemism for, it can't be beat.
    – Mark
    May 20, 2015 at 21:58
  • @Mark Don't forget obscure (and, in many cases, completely unique) racial slurs! If we start accepting Urban Dictionary, we'll need to start accepting Encyclopedia Dramatica, and that's... actually, that'd be pretty amusing. Let's do it. Aug 4, 2015 at 0:57
  • @Mark, Surely that's not the only thing you've been reading about on UD....
    – Pacerier
    Oct 3, 2015 at 13:52
  • Dare's answer on that question also refers to your word but flipped, and from Cambridge. Oct 18, 2023 at 20:47

5 Answers 5


UD is a source that is written by amateurs, and rated by amateurs. I've used it from time to time, but it's best when supplemented with other examples.

As for whether or not the UD is an "acceptable" source, that depends on the nature of the question. For example, suppose the O.P. is asking something like:

What's a good slang term for a person who thinks too highly of himself?
I'm already familiar with terms like braggart, but I'm looking for something more modern
and slang – something that might not have made its way into a dictionary yet.

In that case, I'd say the UD is fine, particularly if someone is wanting to suggest a term that might not be widely known. However, if the O.P.'s question reads:

I'm looking for a clinical term for a person who thinks too highly of himself.

Then the UD probably isn't a good reference to substantiate the answer.

Going back your reference, if the only place I can find the term Question-Statement is in the Urban Dictionary, perhaps it's not good to use that as an answer to the O.P.'s question. However, if you can find and cite other published instances where that same phrase is used, then maybe the UD's definition, coupled with the other references you've found, could make a good answer.

As it stands now, it seems like the O.P. is perhaps looking for a literary or grammatical term, and all your answer does is suggest something from the UD – something that has a rather "amateurish" feel. It might have gotten upvotes as a comment, but, in its current form, it was vulnerable to downvotes as an answer. In other words, I don't think the UD reference is the sole cause of the downvotes, but it's the UD reference absent any other supporting research for this particular question.

(Not my downvotes, btw. Just giving my opinion.)

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    Language is a technology that's created by amateurs. Words and usages become accepted simply because a sufficient number of people adopt them -- there are no "language engineers" updating and fixing the language. There are language mavens who would like to have that role, but it's not how it works.
    – Barmar
    May 20, 2015 at 16:07
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    @Barmar. Au contraire: Académie française.
    – ekhumoro
    May 20, 2015 at 16:52
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    @Barmar - I don't want to get into a debate about language engineers (a.k.a. dictionary editorial boards?). Rather, my point is: not every amateur is a reputable one. When it comes to genericized trademarks (like BandAid, Kleenex, or Cheerios), I like to refer to these companyms. I think it's an apt description, even etymologically sound – a portmanteau of company and synonym. I could enter that into UD tomorrow, and chances are it would stay there. But it's a word I've made up of my own accord, and, so far as I know, the only people who use it with any regularity are me and my wife.
    – J.R.
    May 20, 2015 at 16:58
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    @ekhumoro I consider them to prove my point. They try to legislate the language, but that doesn't stop lots of English words from creeping into the language. Almost no attempts by authorities to control language have worked.
    – Barmar
    May 20, 2015 at 18:50
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    @Barmar. Agreed. But I would then prefer to call them "language ideologues". Everybody else is a "language engineer". Creole languages are the perfect example of what can be engineered by amateurs.
    – ekhumoro
    May 20, 2015 at 20:13
  • @ekhimoro: that's why French is losing out in world popularity as compared to English. To try to control a language by committee is a good way to doom it to becoming a dead language. Someday our descendants will look on French as we now view Latin: an interesting source of bon mots (with some cute diacriticals) that has lost its raison d'être. May 23, 2015 at 5:04
  • @BrianHitchcock: it would lose its raison d'être if the 75 million speakers are somehow driven to stop using it (as it was the case with Latin). Not because it is too rigid per se. It is also obviously the most beautiful language in the world :)
    – WoJ
    May 25, 2015 at 6:47
  • @WoJ: I knew my comment would get a rise out of somebody. Or maybe you're not bothered, just suggesting a way to get rid of it (not likely, though, as you called it "the most beautiful language in the world", an obviously unsubstantiatable value judgment.) Another way languages die is that the people who speak it naturally die off, and their progeny choose (or are forced) to learn another language. This happened to many Native American languages. May 25, 2015 at 9:40

Urban Dictionary can be a resource for slang phrases that are not in traditional dictionaries. However, it is not at all an authoritative source, since it is mainly an entertainment site. For questions not specifically about slang or obscure phrases, if you can find another source, it would be better to do so.

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    I agree completely with this. A lot of terms that are rapidly becoming common will appear in Urban Dictionary long before anyone writes even a blog post about their increasing usage. But to me, the biggest risk of referring to Urban Dictionary is that it's packed full of entries that amount to someone's in-joke. Or terms that are in common usage... among the population of one particular high school. It can be hard to distinguish the important UD entries from the inconsequential.
    – recognizer
    May 20, 2015 at 4:24
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    @recognizer, That's what the votes for. A single particular high school is unlikely to amass 10k upvotes.
    – Pacerier
    Sep 30, 2015 at 3:24
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    @Pacerier That's based on an assumption that UD voters base their votes on "this entry is accurate to current usage" and not "this entry is funny".
    – recognizer
    Sep 30, 2015 at 14:04
  • @recognizer, This is the first time I've heard someone saying votes are because "this entry is funny". From the few hundred (or even thousand) UD pages I've seen, most upvotes seem to follow "I've heard of this before". I've seen plenty "joke" answers get downvoted to oblivion.
    – Pacerier
    Oct 3, 2015 at 10:10
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    @Pacerier I would argue that the vast majority of entries on UrbanDictionary are jokes, not terms in common usage by anyone. For instance, two recent popular entries on the front page right now are "lactcident", with 1500 upvotes, and "intercoarse", with 2300 upvotes. There are barely a thousand Google results for "lactcident" - almost all cite UD. Nearly every google result for "intercoarse" is clearly a misspelling of "intercourse". These are blatantly not terms in use - they are jokes. Sample UD's front page any time, you'll see more of the same.
    – recognizer
    Oct 5, 2015 at 15:20
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    @recognizer, Read my last paragraph again: "I've seen plenty "joke" answers get downvoted to oblivion". "lactcident" has 2817 downvotes with an up/down ratio of ~1.28. "intercoarse" has 4102 downvotes with an up/down ratio of ~0.79. Your comment has misled at least one human being (extrapolating from the upvote). Do take a trip to Intellectual Honesty. Do not argue for the very sake of arguing; counter-propositions should be done with good faith.
    – Pacerier
    Oct 15, 2015 at 18:16
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    @Pacerier You're being tremendously presumptuous with regard to my motivations, and you're completely incorrect. I don't know why you presume to know my mind. It is clearly evident from a cursory examination of Urban Dictionary on any given day that there are a tremendous number of definitions which are jokes and which attract huge numbers of upvotes. From this, we can clearly see that "most upvotes" are not because the voter "has heard of this before". This is not arguing for the sake of arguing. It is a meaningful, true observation which impacts UD's quality as a source.
    – recognizer
    Oct 15, 2015 at 18:22

UD is a great source. A quick scan of the definitions give you a reliable definition of the term. Moreover, it also provides variant definitions, and the up/downvotes give you an idea of how many people would accept those definitions. Note the wisdom of crowds. The crowd is rarely wrong. (E.g. The audience on Millionaire has been right 95% of the time - much more than the experts are).

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    In case this is not just sarcasm, here's a counterpoint. I can go in UD, add a definition for something and just bot it to get 1000 upvotes. Does that make it a good source? Of course not. People debate whether Wikipedia is a good source, and that one at least has to include citations. May 20, 2015 at 17:42
  • @JATerroba, Of course not, for that particular gamed entry. People debate whether Wikipedia is a good source. People too debate whether Encyclopedia Britannica is a good source. People would debate about everything. Experts don't know everything. Experts can't know everything. There are tons of widely referred referents which don't show up in OED. UD isn't perfect too, yet it remains to be a great source. Like all great sources, it's simply a piece in a puzzle and cannot be evaluated in isolation sans the Universe.
    – Pacerier
    Sep 30, 2015 at 6:30

I am very interested in the meanings and origins of words and phrases—and yet I think that I've used Urban Dictionary as a reference source in my answers exactly once, in response to the question What does “fleek” mean and when was it first used? And even then, I was more interested in investigating the theory that an Urban Dictionary user was the original source of the phrase "on fleek" than in relying on its multitude of arbitrary, sometime-compatible/sometimes-contradictory definitions for my understanding of the phrase.

That experience left me with the strong impression that Urban Dictionary is a very unreliable source of accurate real-world definitions, in addition to offering virtually no practical insight into how the meanings of words and phrases have evolved over time.

It's not the site's fault, really. The fundamental problem involves the large number of insincere, prank-oriented, adolescent-humor-driven users who submit definitions. The sheer volume of utterly worthless dross at Urban Dictionary is astonishing—and that's before you factor in the sincere entries written by people who can scarcely write a meaningful sentence when they try. Ultimately, there is so much random noise at Urban Dictionary that trying to extract a useful definition there can be more arduous and less rewarding than visiting a handful of online publications that happen to use a particular slang term and trying to glean its meaning there.

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    Informal slang in the English speaking world is disorganized and contradictory. There is no "authority" on it. Anyone asking a question about slang (atleast current and in-use slang) should not be expecting a very definitive answer. UD gives you a look at a certain demographic's use of the word, which can't be dismissed.
    – DanielST
    May 22, 2015 at 12:59
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    I can't agree with the notion that "informal slang" is any more disorganized and contradictory than any other type of language is a the stage when a particular word comes into use in a field where it was previously either unknown or used in a different sense. The same dynamics are at work with decontented and form factor as with on fleek. People use them imitatively and without a sure sense of what they mean until a kind of informal consensus arises on that question—but it arises surprisingly quickly, at which point a functional, shared understanding of the term exists. ...
    – Sven Yargs
    May 22, 2015 at 16:33
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    ... The problem with Urban Dictionary is that it lacks effective quality control to filter out prank definitions and it has no baseline standard for expressing a definition clearly. UD enables you to get a penumbral sense of what ratchet/ratched (for example) means, but it doesn't give you any practical insight into where the word came from or when, nor does it reliably express (as a good slang dictionary would) the core meaning of the term. You get a shotgun blast of mostly dubious definitions instead of a clean rifle shot, even though (in my view) a rifle shot is possible.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 22, 2015 at 16:41
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    Part of the problem is that though Urban Dictionary has 'dictionary' in its name, its contributors lack the overview (and motivation, training, etc.) of professional lexicographers. That is probably both its strength and its chief limitation: it provides, potentially, a set of narrow-angle amateur definitions from a great many contributors from who-knows-where, but usually little indication of how a given expression arose (and hence very few, if any, attested or cited sources). -->
    – Erik Kowal
    May 23, 2015 at 2:28
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    --> But the thumbs-up/thumbs-down voting system, as well as the clustering of similar/divergent definitions, does give a useful sense of the degree of consensus about its meaning. Given the lack of credentials of its contributors, and the absence of any quality threshold, I think expecting more from it than that would be asking too much.
    – Erik Kowal
    May 23, 2015 at 2:29
  • @ErikKowal: I think your analysis of Urban Dictionary and your view of the appropriate level of expectation to have for the content there are valid. Because I have doubts about the reliability of upvoting patterns—even at dear old EL&U—as a measure of the value of an answer, I've discounted that aspect of UD in the past; but going forward I think I should be more willing to consider those votes as a potentially useful gauge of answer worthiness.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 23, 2015 at 2:51

Although I do not take Urban Dictionary too seriously, it certainly is a great resource for non native speakers, specially when trying to understand slang phrases.

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