Wednesday, June 17, 2009

1,000,000 words!

On 10th June 2009 at 10.22 a.m. GMT, the Global Language Monitor determined that Web 2.0 became the 1,000,000th word in the English language.

I had written about the run-up towards the 1,000,000th English word in a post on 30th April 2009. But here's Simon Winchester (to whom and whose book on the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, The Surgeon of Crawthorne I had referred to in that post) writing in the Daily Telegraph on 6th June 2009 on the impending arrival of the 1,000,000th word. Naturally he does a much better job of writing than I do.

Here's why you should click on the link to read Winchester's piece in toto:

The doctor (i.e. the Surgeon of Crawthorne) was a clever man, with a vast library in his cell, and in an effort to rehabilitate himself he had volunteered, anonymously, to help make contributions to the Oxford English Dictionary, then under construction in a tin shed in the back garden of James Murray's house on Banbury Road.

But his madness, which ebbed and flowed during his 40-year incarceration, became exceptionally florid one day in 1902, and in a sudden spasm of self-loathing he sliced off his penis with a knife, and flung it into the prison fire.

My discovery of this remarkable event answered a small but singular question: just why the man's work for the OED had suddenly faded away. Delighted with the find, I went promptly up to the OED offices in Oxford to tell everyone and then I walked over to Oxford station.

At the ticket window were two elderly women lexicographers, off to London for the theatre. As we boarded the train, I warned them: have I ever got a story to tell you.

And so, in every gruesome detail, and in an open-plan Thameslink carriage, I related the saga: the sharpening of the blade, the tying of the ligature, the gritted teeth, the fatal slice – and, as I said this, so every whey-faced businessman in the carriage crossed his legs reflexively. There was a sudden corporate gasp.

But not from the two old ladies. They remained quite impassive, thinking. I could see the lexicographical gears grinding in their minds. Then suddenly, and in unison I swear, they spoke: "Autopeotomy!" they cried. Then one to the other: "Yes, Mildred – peotomy is the amputation of the penis. But doing it yourself – that must be autopeotomy. A neologism, I am sure. And Mr Winchester, if you can include this new word in an illustrative sentence in the book you are writing, then we will include it in the next edition of the OED, and you'll be a small part of history."

And so I did, and it duly was and I duly am, and there autopeotomy lies for ever, part of the glittering marvels that make up the English language and which, on Wednesday, is set to celebrate the creation of its one millionth word, according to the Global Language Monitor, a Texas-based association of academics that tracks the use of new words.

I love his typically droll English humour that tells a good yarn with a deadpan tone and timbre.

You may be interested to know that the also-rans for the 1,000,000th word were as follows:

* Chengguan Urban management officers, a cross between mayors, sheriffs and city managers.

* Jai Ho! From the Hindi, “It is accomplished”; achieved English-language popularity through the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.

* Mobama Relating to the fashion sense of the US First Lady, as in “that is quite mobama-ish”.

* Noob From the gamer community; a neophyte in playing a particular game; used as a disparaging term.

* Phelpsian The accomplishments of Michael Phelps at the Beijing Olympics.

* Quendy-Trendy British youth-speak for hip or up-to-date.

* Wonderstar As in Susan Boyle, an overnight sensation, exceeding all reasonable expectations.

* Zombie Banks Banks that would be dead if not for government intervention.

Source: The Global Language Monitor

Personally, I would have been more thrilled if the more inspiring and emotive Jai Ho! had entered into the English lexicographical respectability as the 1,000,000th word than the completely inorganic and emotionless Web 2.0.

Jai Ho! still has a chance to resonate and inspire just as Nike's now immortal tagline, Just Do It! The only damnable thing is that it isn't the 1,000,000th word, it had been recorded as the 999,999th word! This is one time when being "second" to Web 2.0 would have been better!


Anonymous said...

I disagree - you do write well.

de minimis said...

Anon 10:34

You are too kind and, I thank you.