Stupidity in Wiki Form

Let’s start by explaining that “wiki” (WEE-kee) is actually Hawaiian in origin — a word meaning “quick” and usually in the form of wiki-wiki, meaning to go or do something quickly (“He’s hurt; bring bandages, wiki-wiki!”). Coined by programmer Ward Cunningham to describe a collaborative website or compendium for “quick” or “quickly-obtained” information, we now refer to any such compendium as a “wiki” (WIH-kee), the most famous being Wikipedia. On the plus side, anyone with information about a topic may contribute to the knowledge base; on the minus side, anyone who thinks they have information about a topic may have a wee into the knowledge pool at will. While Wikipedia does what it can to verify sources and police its own compendium, other wikis are reduced to self-parodying stupidity. The best example of this is an online abomination known as the Urban Dictionary.

Some years ago, compiling a series of entries for another blog, I tripped across this site that alleged to offer explanations and definitions of slang terms. This should be the first flag of warning: What they define should, on no account nor in any way, be considered “words” but rather slang (jargon, patois, argot). Unlike modern linguists (slashed he, tagging Drs. McWhorter and Curzan), I do not consider slang to be “words” on their own merit. A “word”, by that definition, can mean whatever any speaker wants it to mean. To pursue this line of logic, I can use the word “cat” to mean a flightless barnyard bird which sacrifices its wings to my tastes at a certain restaurant where they’re served with delicious sauces and dry rubs. Taking this one step further, I should be able to order “Buffalo Cat Wings,” although I doubt you’ll see them on the menu.

To be useful, words must convey meaning from speaker to listener, which demands that each word have an agreed-upon definition. Properly, the word awesome refers to something that inspires great admiration, or even fear and apprehension. As comedian Eddie Izzard pointed out, “awesome” is something to be applied to an angelic presence, not a hot dog. Watering down the language in this way prevents clear understanding. When the first extraterrestrials land, they may have second thoughts about our relative intelligence if we equate their arrival with fast food. (Fans of the Damon Knight short story, and/or the original Twilight Zone series episode made from it, might recall what it means “To Serve Man”.)

This brings be back to the execrable horror known as the Urban Dictionary. I find this site utterly worthless for two reasons. First, its creators and users seem to revel in the creation, dispersion, and active support of non-words (I’ll have some choice comments to make about a particular obscene non-definition of the word taint one of these fine days). The excuse, once again, is that English — or, in this case, American — is a “living language” that is growing every day. I counter this bit of idiocy with the argument made in a previous entry: If there already exists a word for something (see perineum), why are we bothering to create new ones… or worse, make regular words have a meaning that is totally irrelevant and just plain wrong? A recent peeve of mine is the use of ships to refer to “relationships,” thus making the ridiculous and ill-advised comment that “I’m the captain of this ship.” Yeah, just call you Mr. Christian, and I’m going to mutiny.

My second reason for actively disparaging this idiot site is that they have no interest in being correct. I used a search engine to look up the phrase not on your nelly, which is a fairly common bit of exasperation heard in British speech. The correct explanation, as found in the highly-reputable Rhyming Slang Dick’n’Harry, is that “Nelly” is the foreshortened form of “Nelly Duff”, the latter word rhyming with “puff”, which refers to the breath of life. Thus you might hear something like, “Common sense from that lot? Not on your nelly!” Urban Dictionary has two explanations, one being that it is “predominantly Scottish” (utterly wrong), the other that “nelly” rhymes with “smelly”, from “smelly breath”, leading to “breath of life”. (Unless God has halitosis, I don’t think that works.) That entry shows conclusively that the “expert” who wrote it knows nothing of Cockney rhyming slang. The word that rhymes is rarely spoken, but is instead referred to by the part that doesn’t rhyme. “Not on your nelly” falls into that category, with the unspoken part (“Duff”) rhyming with the operative word (“puff”). This is also seen with “trouble” to mean “wife” (the phrase is “trouble and strife”), or “the loo’s up the apples” (the phrase is “apples and pears,” rhyming with “stairs” — a classic so old that it’s almost unused anymore).

When I submitted both my explanation/definition and my original source to show legitimacy, I was told first that I could not submit the addition with the URL for the reference, then I was told that the definition was rejected, for no clear reason — other, perhaps, than the fact that my information was accurate, and heaven forefend that they actually have the right information. To use real words, with proper etymology, and the citation to support it? Ain’t fo’ shizzle, yo.

And as long as I’ve brought that up, allow me to offer one more tidbit in hope of tacking a final nail into this site’s long-overdue coffin. It’s bad enough that a non-word like shizzle is given not merely free rein but a pretense at legitimacy; worse still is that, the last time I checked this atrocity of a website, “shizzle” has 82 different definitions. This does not count seemingly innumerable variations, including shizzel, shizzelnitz, shizzelnoggin, Shizzerfack (which, apparently, must be capitalized and is equated to another non-word, queef, which has 229 definitions), and even shizzizzel, which is “shizzle” but even more so. Please note that no one can agree on the spelling of “shizzel” or “shizzle”, nor whether “Shizzlemcnizzle” should be “Shizzle McNizzle”. The “editors” seem not to police even their own ridiculous playground.

I can only deduce that people using this kaleidoscope of ever-shifting meaninglessness have nothing to say, no reason to say it, and perhaps most of all, no desire to be understood. I find it fascinating that the vast majority of this cancer upon the language seems to be part of what was once called “rap”. This should speak volumes about that genre of alleged musical entertainment (which, sadly, has leaked further into the mainstream… but I’m down with Big Shaq’s self-parodying hit “Man’s Not Hot”).

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