With much pomp, circumstance, hyperbole and stupidity, The Global Language Monitor made the ludicrous and inaccurate claim that the English language had just reached it’s 1,000,000th word. And that word? Web 2.0.
This auspicious event occurred on June 10th 2009 at 10:22 GMT. Citizens of the Anglophone world took to the streets to celebrate this epoch defining moment.
As you can tell, I’m somewhat scathing of this. Firstly, if I may be pedantic, “Web 2.0” is not one word, it is two. The GLM has an odd attitude to what a solitary word looks like – their 1,000,001st word for instance is “financial tsunami”, which is again not one word but two (and I would argue is a descriptive metaphor…).
GLM declares “with a new word created about every 98 minutes” Web 2.0 became the 1,000,000th word on Wednesday of this week. Of course, that implies that this word is new. Tautologically speaking, a new word can’t be one that has been in existence and use for several years, but that’s what Web 2.0 is. The Wikipedia entry for Web 2.0 has existed since February 2005. There is an annual conference on Web 2.0 called the Web 2.0 Summit held in California (you can read the news and coverage from 2007’s conference online).
It is not new, and not really a word, and as the BBC has pointed out the methods of the GLM are not taken seriously by lexicographers. GLM requires the word to be used 25,000 times online before it declares it a “new” word – this ignores all other print forms (which traditional dictionary compilers look at) and completely ignores actual usage.
For words to be included in the Oxford English Dictionary for example, they undergo a long period of rigorous scrutiny – the rule of thumb is “any word can be included which appears five times, in five different printed sources, over a period of five years“. But the compilers of the OED do not make the hubristic claim that these words are “new” to the English language, as GLM does. Merely that these words are new to the OED.
The bumblebee has always been able to fly, but exactly how seemed to defy what we know about physics and mechanics. Then, through careful study, what was always apparent was scientifically explained. The OED are like those scientists who have finally explained how bumblebees can fly – we all knew it, and now they can explain it. The GLM however would have us believe that bumblebees have only just begun to fly because they noticed it.
In truth, there are more than 1,000,000 words in English, and many of them are unknown, unrecorded, and have private and personal meanings. This public relations exercise by a marketing company that is effectively paid money to carry out Google searches, garnered GLM hours of media time. Given what Web 2.0 actually involves, the cynic in me can’t help but wonder which Web 2.0 client may have been engaging their services in the run up to the “discovery” of this word…