Hello, Wiktionary! Hello, Urban Dictionary!

Here we introduce two dictionaries, Wiktionary and Urban Dictionary, which both rely on user-generated content but are actually quite different.

Before we examine those differences, however, there are a couple of similarities to consider. Both of these sites keep and display information on who entered a new word and when. Wiktionary does this on its history pages linked to each word, and it also shows every change that’s ever been made to a word, as well as the date, the time and the person who made the change. This means the development of a word can be traced back to its earliest entry there. Urban Dictionary puts details of who entered a new word or word sense and the date clearly on the entry itself (see below).

Wiktionary

Wiktionary is more similar to an expert-produced dictionary in terms of the way it looks and operates and the types of information it provides. There are well over a hundred different language versions of Wiktionary, as well as translations within entries in the English language version.

Have a look at the entry for ‘home’ in the English version of Wiktionary.

  • What sort of information does it provide?
  • If you speak another language, compare this entry with the one for the corresponding word in the Wiktionary version for that language (if one exists). Do they contain the same information?
  • Does the English site provide more or less information?
  • Now compare the English Wiktionary entry for ‘home’ with the entry in Oxford Dictionaries and with other expert-produced dictionaries of your choice (in English). What similarities and differences can you see?

Wiktionary has some things that expert dictionaries don’t have – translations, for example – and the clickthrough navigation panel at the top of the entry. And, of course, some expert dictionaries have some things that Wiktionary doesn’t have, as you’ll see in Step 1.18. Not all Wiktionary words carry translations and navigation panels though, and, as with expert-produced dictionaries, they don’t all carry the same amount of information as the entry for ‘home’. We expect to see standard elements in a dictionary entry (for example, the headword, definitions, examples, pronunciation guidance and part of speech (word class), but it’s up to each publisher to decide exactly what to include, and even within the same dictionary the content can vary from entry to entry.

Urban Dictionary

Urban Dictionary looks quite different and the kinds of definitions are much more informal. Have a look at the entry for ‘home’ in Urban Dictionary. The place where you live (the first sense listed in Wiktionary and most if not all expert dictionaries) is not the first sense in Urban Dictionary. Many Urban Dictionary senses are slang uses and personal (sometimes humorous) interpretations of word meaning. Urban Dictionary provides headwords, definitions and examples, but not much other linguistic information. Words and phrases in the entry are linked to other places in the dictionary to help readers understand them. The name of the contributor who added the word and the date when it was entered are more prominent in Urban Dictionary than in Wiktionary. Urban Dictionary readers also have the option to like or dislike a word, and each entry’s like and dislike score is shown underneath its definition and examples. Words in Urban Dictionary can be shared directly onto social media.

For information about how words enter expert-produced dictionaries, Wiktionary and Urban Dictionary, look out for Week 4, when we’ll be discussing inclusion criteria.

There will be more discussion of the entries in Urban Dictionary in Week 5, in Steps 5.16 and 5.17.

Your task

Do you prefer Wiktionary or Urban Dictionary? Why?

Do you use either of these dictionaries and, if so, what sort of tasks do you use them for?

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This article is from the free online course:

Understanding English Dictionaries

Coventry University