New York Times Crossword Puzzlemaster Schooled on Definition of 'Illin'

When freelance writer Julieanne Smolinski noticed what she thought was an error in Saturday's New York Times crossword puzzle (PDF), she shot off an email to the corrections line. To her surprise, the Times' crossword puzzle editor responded, and the Great New York Times Crossword Puzzle Illin' Debate was born.

On Saturday, Smolinski wrote:

From: Julieanne Smolinski
Date: Sat, Jan 7, 2012 at 5:05 PM
Subject: Crossword Puzzle Correction
To: nytnews@nytimes.com

Dear New York Times,

The clue for 28 down reads "Wack, in hip-hop," and the answer provided is "ILLIN." These are not the same things, at all!

Sincerely,

Julieanne Smolinski,
Not Even a Hip-Hop Expert

Legendary Times crossword editor Will Shortz responded on Monday afternoon:

From: ‪Will Shortz‬
Date: Mon, Jan 9, 2012 at 1:01 PM
Subject: Re: Crossword Puzzle Correction
To: Julieanne Smolinski

Dear Julieanne,

Thanks for your email regarding the crossword clue for ILLIN ("Wack, in hip-hop").

You didn't mention what distinction you draw between the two words.
According to the Dictionary of American Slang, edited by Robert L. Chapman,
"illin'" means "stupid, insane." "Wack" is defined as "worthless, stupid."

The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, by Tony Thorne, defines "illin'" as "bad,
uncool," and says it is a buzzword in the rap and hip-hop cultures. It seems to
me that's roughly the same as "wack" in the sense of worthless or stupid.

In addition, the online Urban Dictionary (which I don't usually use, but I'll
cite as an additional source) provides further corroboration for the clue and
answer.
So it seems to me the clue is fine.
I appreciate your writing. Keep up the good solving!
—Will Shortz

Which was met by this response from Smolinski:

From: Julieanne Smolinski
Date: Mon, Jan 9, 2012 at 1:27 PM
Subject: Re: Crossword Puzzle Correction
To: Will Shortz

Dear Will Shortz,

Thank you for writing back!

In my house we always use "illin'" to describe the act of being "ill" in a positive sense. Although, to be fair, I would have to list my source as "the rapper T.I." (although I'm fairly certain he is MLA approved).

This is how I would use illin':

Julieanne: Hello, new best friend Will Shortz, how are you today?
Will Shortz: Illin'.

But I think you definitely have supporting evidence. Although, the guy who wrote that American slang guide died ten years ago at the age of Super Old. Not that that should matter! Good lexicography is good lexicography. (I think that's also a T.I. rhyme.)

Thanks for the puzzles every week. I love you deeply.

Sincerely,

Julieanne Smolinski.

Lest we spark war between two of the internet's most rabid fanbases—-crossword puzzle obsessives and hip-hop heads—we're not even going to try to adjudicate this. Debate over the meaning of illin' almost escalated into a shouting match at Gawker HQ.

New York Times Crossword Puzzlemaster Schooled on Definition of 'Illin'S

All we can say is the meaning of illin' is malleable. It's true that Run DMC's "You Be Illin" uses illin in the sense of wack. But illin' can also mean crazy (La Coka Nostra and Steven King's "Straight Illin") and chilling (Young Jeezy's "Illin'"). And everyone knows just plain "ill" is the opposite of wack.

Please leave the true meaning of illin' in the comments.