Thursday, April 30, 2009

617 words until the 1,000,000th English Word?

The Global Language Monitor tracks neologisms; new words in the English language.

Says Forbes:

It’s difficult to track the number of words in the English language, since neologisms–new words–are coined every day. The Global Language Monitor claims our lexicon will welcome its millionth word by the end of this month; other experts disagree.Whenever it does occur, will the millionth word be something from the business world, like “carpocalypse,” describing the state of the automotive industry? Or from Hollywood, like “momager,” the mother of a celebrity who also serves as business manager?

I'm not too sure about all this. As I used to tell my children, If it ain't in Oxford, it ain't a word. And, there's only about 300,000 words in the Oxford Dictionary.

And, The Global Language Monitor is an American company. That's why there's scepticism about the claim. Watch the BBC's video on this claim, When does a word become a word. Only if you have nothing better to do.

Only the Americans can take lexicography to a razzmatazz-y state of ecstasy.

The original effort to lexicograph English words into the Oxford English Dictionary by Professor James Murray and his team in 1857 is colourfully and wonderfully woven into a highly readable narrative by the intrepid traveller-writer, Simon Winchester, in an improbably titled book, The Surgeon of Crawthorne (U.K.) or, The Professor and the Madman (U.S.).

See Inside!
Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester: Book Cover

Surely the process of lexicography needs to be more painstaking than to write an algorithm to track the electronic media for neologisms on an indiscriminate basis. For example, if I write neughherb, would the great machine at The Global Language Monitor capture it as a neologism?


walla said...

Random Quotes Generator


de minimis said...

bro walla

Did Big Blue write the algorithm to your positronic brain? ;D

You are one scary dude.

Anonymous said...

the very reason why brit unis are fast losing to US unis. too endeared to tradition. too dismissive of new development.

mekyam said...

first, let me state that i'm also one of those who swears by the infallibility of the oed. ;D

granted the american side is over-exuberant and silly-looking as usual. but in this case, i think it is mirroring reality more accurately. the british side is typically over-cautious and may be in denial about the present reality wrt the english language.

let's face it, the internet makes communication, esp pertaining to the most used-language on the net, i.e. english, ubiquitous.

language, mirroring the psyche of us humans who come up with it, is quite plastic. though linguists will tell you it is algorithmic, that there is method to the mayhem, it can appear quite unruly to the rest of us.

whether english purists like it or not, a word becomes a word when it's understood and used by a critical mass globewise, no longer when some stuffy institution eventually gets down to chalking it neatly in their list and pronounces it blessed for usage. alas, such is the anarchic reality.

the ease a coinage achieves shared-comprehension and usage-acceptance (i.e. achieving the critical-mass usage globally) nowadays is probably just within weeks, if not days. if one is netbound, one can almost hear the clickety-clicks of a newly minted neologisilliness (often initiated by people who can't even tell the difference between "your" and "you're" and "their" and "they're") going around in the worldwidewitlessland.

perhaps there is one thing linguists and english purists can take comfort in. the unwritten law of fads still holds sway here. many of the neologisms will go the way of other discarded and forgotten cants in word history at probably the same speed as their mindless acceptance.

the purists can also take comfort that there is such a gizmo as the GLM to keep track of the babble. otherwise there will be no new linguistic history book to follow that of winchester et al. :D

de minimis said...

Hi mekyam

I quite agree with your view. I like to have some fun with facts. Langauge is a living thing. It should evolve. I certainly am not dogmatic about OED. I happen to think that the evolution of the English language over the past half-century was largely contributed by the U.S. due in large part to its scientific and commercial prowess.

If the world had to wait for OED to record the word as an official neologism, we will be all the poorer from a lexicographic standpoint.

Having said that, it is comforting to have the good 'ol OED to rely on in resolving semantical disputes :D (Some may choose Merriam-Webster, which is fine, too).

Raison D'etre said...


Have you read the book? Is it a good read? Been a while since i've gotten myself something other than fiction..

de minimis said...


I have read many of Simon Winchester's book. He's got a real eye on detail and takes you through a very intimate narrative that only a well-researched author can write. He takes special pleasure in uncovering nuggets of details that workaday historians tend to gloss over. The Surgeon of Crawthorne is very interesting as the story of the OED saga is told from the perspective of one of the contributors who happened to be an American surgeon with an unfortunate history. This book is worth reading for sure.

Another one, the one that got me hooked on Winchester is, The Map That Changed The World. It's a story of the man who literally invented the colour coding on geological maps that is so useful to geologists and cartographers today...except that someone else stole the credit to that innovation.

It's Simon Winchester's narrative and his eye for detail that you will find gripping and rivetting.

Raison D'etre said...

Danke, Bro.