Slang is the language of counter-culture, disobedience and outright crime. So it’s no surprise slang terms get debated in court.
Here are five times in the last six years slag has proved pivotal in a legal case.
Check out our episode on how slang spreads and evolves on iTunes or through the SoundCloud player below.
- That “HOE” is OK: In 2009, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled a Las Vegas man could keep the word “HOE” on license plate, negating a decision by the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles. Nevada’s DMV had cited multiple definitions of the word on Urban Dictionary as reason to revoke William Junge’s license plate, despite originally having no problem issuing the tags. Junge says he originally got the plates because he drove a 1999 Chevy Tahoe and “TAHOE” was already taken.
- Pay up, jack boys: A 2013 financial restitution case In Wisconsin hung in part on the phrase “jack boys,” which, the court decided, implicated a defendant in the exact way you’d think. According to the New York Times, an appeals court cited Urban Dictionary’s definition of the term in its ruling that a convicted thief was responsible for paying restitution for a van he and two accomplices stole to carry out a subsequent robbery. The accomplices had referred to themselves as “The Jack Boys.” (The court gives Urban Dictionary a nod on Page 2 of its decision.)
- “She’s got to change her weather”: For the three of you who didn’t know, jails monitor phone calls. According to the Chicago Tribune, a local man named Ralph Peterson was being investigated earlier this year for what prosecutors believe could be conspiracy to intimidate a witness. Peterson responded that he was using “black slang” during a call with convicted murderer William Fillyaw and that the authorities wouldn’t understand. The terms in question include “putting more juice (into an effort)” and the phrase “she’s got to change her weather.” The Tribune’s story includes a nod by Peterson to the concept of code switching: “The day white men say they can interpret that is the day I start believing in Jack and the Beanstalk.”
- Bare bait, indeed: Queue up your internal British accent for this one. A quartet of Brits ages 17 to 25 ended up in a Northeast London court in December after they were accused of going on air rifle shooting spree. If that weren’t bad enough, they had to listen to prosecutors read their texts aloud, following their recitations with translations that made the gallery bust into laughter.
- Keep that to yourself, guy: According to the previously mentioned New York Times story, a Tennessee court reportedly consulted Urban Dictionary before deciding a manager at a supply chain logistics company’s use of the phrase “to nut” was a reference to ejaculation (no kidding), which led it to reject a call to dismiss a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by female employees.