Web Watch May 2007

A new England, with inventive new English: Boris Johnson's blog and urbandictionary.com


Bozzer's thoughts on the world

Boris Johnson's straw-coloured moptop is well known to viewers of the BBC, where he has appeared frequently on Have I Got News For You, as well as presenting his own programmes on history and the EU. On this side of the Irish Sea, however, many might be less aware of his considerable journalistic, literary and political achievements. On winning Columnist of the Year at the British Press Awards in 2005, one of his many accolades, the judges said, “He shows great range and can write on anything. You read him not because you share his view, but because you want to hear what he has to say.”

A lot of what Johnson has to say these days relates to politics, as he is a Conservative party MP and the UK Shadow Minister for Higher Education. On his blog, Bozzer – as he is affectionately known in the British press – lets fly on all manner of topics, but usually ends up making a point about the state of Britain under the Labour Party – or NuLab as the Tory blogosphere has taken to calling them. This is to be expected from a politician and professional writer, and as long as you understand where Johnson is coming from, you can sit back and enjoy the imaginative prose and florid ranting. “In this age of social mobility, when the cereal packet of society is being endlessly shaken…” is a typical example of the beginnings of a Johnson diatribe. www.boris-johnson.com


If you have ever listened to someone younger than you speak in an unintelligible lingo, or wondered exactly what that gangster-rapper means, or decided that the world needs to know the exact definition of a word that you just made up, then maybe you need to have a look at www.urbandictionary.com .

In the same spirit as the treasure trove that is Wikipedia, the Urban Dictionary allows users to edit and add to the vast list of words and definitions. Users have the ability to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to a particular definition. A set of rules are supplied for you, the editor, to apply in your decisions. The creators of the dictionary have made it clear that an individual cannot be named, unless they are a celebrity, in which case their name can take on a new meaning, for example ‘Hasselhoff; (verb) To run in slow motion'. This definition has received 210 thumbs-ups, and 28 downs, so it looks like it could easily become part of everyday speech. Racist and sexual slurs can be published in the interest of documentation, but entries that are themselves racist or sexist are disallowed. Editors are also told to reject nonsense. Despite these rules, people hiding behind their online identities will publish exactly what they are told not to, meaning that the website is not for those with delicate sensibilities. In times when even the Oxford English Dictionary is adding 4,000 new words a year, the Urban Dictionary can keep you up to date, as well as allowing you to celebrate the inventiveness of the English-speaking world. Tom Rowe