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Virus update: one million English words, and counting

June 10, 2009 at 9:20 am in Language

The English language received its official unofficial one millionth word this morning at 5:22 a.m. ET. And, just in time for the coming Web 3.0 phenomena, the one millionth word is…wait for it…

Web 2.0.

Of course, “Web 2.0″ being crowned the One Millionth English Word, and having the coronation at exactly 5:22 this morning, is just an estimate, made buy a website called the Global Language Monitor, “a Web site that uses a math formula to estimate how often words are created.” I like that: words used to describe a math formula used to estimate how many words there are that could be put to use to describe math formulas that estimate…well, you get the picture.

According to the article today on CNN.com:

[Global Language Monitor] estimates the millionth English word, “Web 2.0″ was added to the language Wednesday at 5:22 a.m. ET. The term refers to the second, more social generation of the Internet.

The site says more than 14 words are added to English every day, at the current rate.

The “Million Word March,” however, has made the man who runs this word-counting project somewhat of a pariah in the linguistic community. Some linguists say it’s impossible to count the number of words in a language because languages are always changing, and because defining what counts as a word is a fruitless endeavor.

Paul J.J. Payack, president and chief word analyst for the Global Language Monitor, says, however, that the million-word estimation isn’t as important as the idea behind his project, which is to show that English has become a complex, global language.

“It’s a people’s language,” he said.

Other languages, like French, Payack said, put big walls around their vocabularies. English brings others in.

“English has the tradition of swallowing new words whole,” he said. “Other languages translate.”

Certainly that’s what Wordlab has always been about: swallowing new words whole…and then regurgitating them in new combinations.

Still, Payack says he doesn’t include all new words in his count. Words must make sense in at least 60 percent of the world to be official, he said. And they must make sense to different communities of people. A new technology term that’s only understood in Silicon Valley wouldn’t count as a mainstream word, he said.

His computer models check a total of 5,000 dictionaries, scholarly publications and news articles, as well as billions of Web sites, to see how frequently words are used, he said. A word must make 25,000 appearances to be deemed legitimate.

Payack said news events have also fueled the rapid expansion of English, which he said has more words than any other language. Mandarin Chinese comes in second with about 450,000 words, he said.

English terms like “Obamamania,” “defriend,” “wardrobe malfunction,” “zombie banks,” “shovel ready” and “recessionista” all have grown out of recent news cycles about the presidential election, economic crash, online networking or a sports event, he said. Other languages might not have developed new terms to deal with such phenomena, he said.

That the true beauty and power of English, and its new global function: serving as a language laboratory for the entire world. An interesting corollary question would be how many English words die out every day, week or month? None of these new words get carved in stone, and even the Oxford English Dictionary is filled with many archaic words no longer in use.

Language experts who spoke with CNN said they disapprove of Payack’s count, but they agree that English generally has more words than most, if not all, languages.

“This is stuff that you just can’t count,” said Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary. “No one can count it, and to pretend that you can is totally disingenuous. It simply can’t be done.”

The Oxford English Dictionary has about 600,000 entries, Sheidlower said. But that by no means includes all words, he said.

… Part of what makes determining the number of words in a language so difficult is that there are so many root words and their variants, said Sarah Thomason, president of the Linguistic Society of America and a linguistics professor at the University of Michigan.

… Linguists and lexicographers run into further complications when trying to count words that are spelled one way but can have several meanings, said Allan Metcalf, an English professor at MacMurray College in Illinois, and an officer at the American Dialect Society.

“The word bear, b-e-a-r — is that two words or one, for example? You have a noun that’s a wild creature and then you have b-e-a-r, [which means] to bear left or to bear right, and there’s many other things,” he said. “So you really can’t be exact about a millionth word.”

Can any of these linguists or word-counters bear to get into pun territory? Absolutely each meaning of “bear” and every other word should count as a separate word — again, multiple meanings, puns, homonyms, all are part of what gives the English language so much flavor and customizability (not a word, BTW, according to the OED). Call it Language 2.0 if you must (but really, please don’t — I’m just planting a virus here).

[Payack] said the count is meant to be a celebration of English as a global language. And, while he says other languages are being stamped out by English’s expansion, it’s a powerful thing that so many people today are able to communicate with such a vast list of words.

Here here, brother. As William S. Burroughs famously said, “Language is a virus“. And English, with its metastasizing foam of wordbirth and worddeath, is the smallpox of languages.

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Mucking About on National Inventors’ Day

February 11, 2009 at 12:54 pm in Culture / History, Names/Naming

February 11th is National Inventors’ Day, this year marking the 162nd anniversary of the birth of Thomas Alva Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park.

Already by the time he moved to Menlo Park in 1876, Thomas Edison had gathered many of the men who would work with him for the rest of their lives. By the time Edison built his West Orange lab complex, men came from all over the US and Europe to work with the famous inventor. Often these young “muckers,” as Edison called them, were fresh out of college or technical training.

Unlike most inventors, Edison depended upon dozens of “muckers” to build and test his ideas. In return, they received “only workmen’s wages.” However, the inventor said, it was “not the money they want, but the chance for their ambition to work.”

The Wikipedia page for Thomas Edison notes several places and companies bearing Edison’s name:

Though branding is now second-nature for famous people (and their handlers), Randall E. Stross author of The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World asserts that Edison launched the first successful branding campaign-an achievement arguably further ahead of its time than much of his technical output-by embracing the title “Wizard of Menlo Park,” which was coined by a reporter during Edison’s brief stay in that New Jersey town.

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Introducing the amazing… SHIT BOX

January 27, 2009 at 1:43 am in Names/Naming, Slang

Shit Box and Little Jack Shit are trademarks of The Brown Corporation Ltd.

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Bush Street Renamed Obama Street in San Francisco

January 20, 2009 at 1:29 pm in Culture / History

Timed with today’s inauguration, Bush Street signs in San Francisco were changed to Obama down the entire length of Bush Street from Presidio to Battery. Photo gallery and story at Laughing Squid.

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How To Wrap Last-Minute Gifts

December 24, 2008 at 9:48 am in Names/Naming

Well, it’s Christmas eve and we’re scrambling to wrap last-minute gifts for hard-to-shop-for friends and relatives. It’s tempting just to have the elves at the mall take care of gift wrapping; so professional, with fancy paper, glue-gunned pine cones, and perfect bows. But it’s obvious you couldn’t be bothered wrapping it yourself. Don’t be embarrassed by perfectly wrapped gifts this year. CrapWrap shows you cared enough to put in the extra effort and wrapped the special gift yourself.

Merry Christmahanukwanzmadan and see y’all in the New Year.

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The history of Ponzi and his infamous scheme

December 23, 2008 at 1:35 pm in Culture / History

With the arrest last week of Bernard L. Madoff for what amounts to a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, Mental Floss asks the obvious question: just who is this Ponzi, and what exactly was his scheme?

His name was Charles Ponzi, pictured at right, and Mental Floss notes,

Anyone can work a simple swindle, but you have to be a special kind of con man to have your name become synonymous with “fraud.”

Read the article, it’s a great story. At one point near the end, when his great con was unraveling, Ponzi hired a PR flak named William McMasters,

…but the PR man saw through Ponzi’s lies and renounced his client in the press. James Walsh reprints part of McMasters’ slam of Ponzi in his book, You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man. Of Ponzi, McMasters said, “The man is a financial idiot. He can hardly add…He sits with his feet on the desk smoking expensive cigars in a diamond holder and talking complete gibberish about postal coupons.”

Certainly an apt symbol of our own troubled, fraudulent times.

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I’m a moofer?

November 11, 2008 at 11:50 pm in Language

Hypermiling is the Oxford Universtiy Press “Word of the Year” and “moofer” is a runner-up amongst these finalists:

frugalista – person who leads a frugal lifestyle, but stays fashionable and healthy by swapping clothes, buying second-hand, growing own produce, etc.

moofer – a mobile out of office worker – ie. someone who works away from a fixed workplace, via Blackberry/laptop/wi-fi etc. (also verbal noun, moofing)

topless meeting – a meeting in which the participants are barred from using their laptops, Blackberries, cellphones, etc.

toxic debt – mainly sub-prime debts that are now proving so disastrous to banks. They were parceled up and sent around the global financial system like toxic waste, hence the allusion.

I prefer to think of myself as one of a new breed of digital nomads.

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A Magazine Named Sue

November 10, 2008 at 3:08 pm in Names/Naming

Introducing a brand new publication designed specifically for women professionals in the litigation practice specialty. “The legal community has been dominated by men since the establishment of the United States and Sue will be a valuable asset in helping women in litigation to equalize that dominance and further develop their position in the legal community,” says Christie LaBarca in a review of the new magazine named Sue.

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Obama Name Craze

November 6, 2008 at 10:31 pm in Names/Naming

Mothers in Kenya have marked Barack Obama’s historic win in the US presidential elections by naming their newborns after him and his wife, according to this international news report.

Meanwhile, in the real America, a supporter of Republican presidential candidate John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin went beyond a bumper sticker and named his newborn daughter after the duo. According to this local news report, the baby’s name, Sarah McCain Palin Ciptak, came as a surprise to her mother.

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The Branded Candidate

October 31, 2008 at 11:59 am in Branding

One of TIME’s 50 best inventions of 2008: the branded candidate.

Barack Obama hat: $15.

Barack Obama special-edition Beyoncé T shirt: $60.

Devising a system to make and sell your own swag and garner millions in profits, not to mention the phone numbers and addresses of hundreds of thousands of potential volunteers? Priceless.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has a hilarious analysis of Obama’s half-hour infomercial — complete with “unfortunate product placements.”