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Julieanne Smolinski, Will Shortz Debate Over ‘Illin”

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The New York Times Crossword Puzzle is the highlight of many a wordsmith’s day and one in particular found a discrepancy in the newspaper’s Saturday edition (Jan. 7) when a slang word wasn’t given its proper meaning.

Freelance editor and writer Julieanne Smolinski questioned crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz‘ inclusion of the word “illin’,” which by hip-hop standards is usually defined by being all things excellent and positive. However, the definition that made it onto the pages of the famed crossword puzzle didn’t match up to what is widely known and rapped about on Nas‘ ‘Illmatic,’ Beastie Boys‘ ‘Licensed to Ill,’ Red Cafe‘s ‘I’m Ill’ or T.I.‘s ‘I’m Illy,’ a song Smolinski referenced when she contacted Shortz — with a “z” for hip-hop, of course — about the error.

“The clue for 28 down reads ‘Wack, in hip-hop,’ and the answer provided is ‘ILLIN.’ These are not the same things, at all!” Smolinski, who’s penned articles for GQ, MTV and Details, wrote to the NY Times. In response, Shortz defended the meaning by citing the Dictionary of American Slang, the Dictionary of Contemporary Slang and the online Urban Dictionary. From his perspective, illin’ is the exact opposite of her argument.

The BoomBox spoke with Julieanne Smolinski about this great hip-hop debate and why she decided to take precious time out of her day to defend a word coveted by rap enthusiasts everywhere.

“Well, I’m really busy and important, as both a writer and humanitarian,” she tells The BoomBox. “But I’m also a dedicated puzzle solver, and the Saturday crossword is sacred. I won’t have it besmirched by error. Besides, the actual copy on Times website where you submit corrections invites you to contact them if you are ‘concerned about the paper’s journalistic integrity.’ So, I had a responsibility.”

Now that the Internet is taking sides over what illin’ actually means, people may think Shortz and Smolinski are at odds. However, that’s not the case; she didn’t feel slighted at all by his reply. “I actually wasn’t annoyed at all — Shortz is a hero of mine,” Smolinski reveals. “I do, however, take slight issue with his sources. A slang dictionary written by a guy who died in 2002 at the age of 81? Yes, slang is mutable, but I wouldn’t exactly call that current.”

For more on Julieanne Smolinski’s thoughts on illin’, Will Shortz and the prized crossword puzzle, follow her on Twitter here.


Watch Julieanne Smolinski on ‘The Colbert Report’

Watch ‘You’ve Got Will Shortz on Making a Crossword Puzzle’

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You've Got Will Shortz on Making a Crossword Puzzle

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