Tuesday, April 11, 2006

And "floopy" makes it a million and one?

Have I mentioned how much I love the Good Word feature at Slate?

The latest is from Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the OED. He talks about the Global Language Monitor's silly prediction that the English language is about to add its millionth word.

I wrote in February about how the group's president, Paul Payack, was counting shorthand from texting (I CN for I can) and slang (drinktea and fundoo). There's no word on whether floopy is included.

Sheidlower talks about the difficulty in developing criteria.
Dictionaries include great-grandfather but not great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, which is real enough to get over 3,500 Google hits. Only the most basic numbers are typically included; Merriam-Webster, for example, includes twenty-one and twenty-two, but not twenty-three or thirty-one. In fact, if you were to count every number between 0 and 999,999 as a word, you'd have a cool million right there -- ?and still have the rest of the English language to account for.
The millionth-word claim is bogus, but news orgs are still running stories about it.

So be on the lookout in the next few months. Global Language Monitor predicts that the millionth word will be added around June. (As of March 21, there were 988,968 words, it said.) The group may have an algorithm helping it determine when that point comes, but that doesn't make the number any more accurate.


At 7:15 AM, April 12, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was going to add something smart, but then realized the computer generated a new word for verification purposes underneath this message.
axwfqia: to verify one's identity when posting a reply on a bog. See also adsfag, weqild, cnaasd.
We'll be at two million in no time.

At 11:12 PM, April 12, 2006, Blogger Fiddler said...

"Word," Sister Nicole. Thanks for the heads-up.


At 2:37 AM, April 13, 2006, Blogger Nicole said...

Geoff Nunberg says at Language Log that he'll have a Fresh Air piece on the matter in a couple of weeks.

At 1:58 PM, April 13, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, all are invited to visit the www.languagemonitor.com site to see that the word count is an estimate and 'a starting point' or thought starter. (Check the Number of Words page.) The debate seems to be that since no one can say exactly what is a word, no one should ever attempt to do same ... even the attempt to define criteria deerves ridicule. We define 'word' by the old Anglo-Saxon meaning of 'a thing spoken'. If you can think, say it and use it to communicate it -- it is a word. Should every word count? No. But those that persist in expanding contexts deserve to be counted.


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