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The job of the lexicographer used to be lonely, quiet and thoughtful – as austere as life in a monastic order. These days you can bang out a dictionary definition the moment a half-formed idea hits your head. The Urban Dictionary has been doing solid work for slang and street talk since 1999; now there’s an Instagram upstart called HipDict.

While the Urban Dictionary is democratic (you can vote for competing definitions), HipDict relies entirely on the humour in the definition of its real and invented words. Ambrose Bierce did this far better in his The Devil’s Dictionary series of the 1880s (see example above). But he wasn’t on Insta, so that doesn’t count.

Some HipDict definitions are unnervingly insightful (Passion: the quality you fake to get a job; Tradition: peer pressure from dead people), many are just awkward (Bruises on legs: we spend like 5% of our lives trying to figure out where they came from; Clothes: only get caught on the door handle when I’m in a bad mood).

At its best, HipDict exposes the hidden meanings behind innocuous words and phrases. Good for a laugh, but not useful if you’re copywriting for business. Secret codes and knowing allusions are lost on your readers. To make an instant connection you have to give your words the regular everyday meanings your audience understands. You need readers to get your story first time, every time.

Feeling clever? To submit a definition to HipDict, go to hipdict.com

And if you want to know what life is like for a real dictionary compiler, try Kory Stamper’s Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries [Vintage, 2018].

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