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English is About to Get Its Millionth Word

The English language is about to hit a new milestone next month, according to this article on UPI.com.

Paul JJ Payack is predicting that the millionth new English word will be coined on June 10, 2009 @ 10:22 am Shakespeare’s time. How can Payack, the president of the Global Language Monitor, tell when the millionth word will be added? Is he psychic?

Not quite. The prediction is based on analyzing how fast words are currently being created-about once every 98 minutes, according to this earlier article about the researchers. At that rate, on June 10, 2009, the Global Language Monitor figures that we will officially hit 1 million words.

Here’s the question, though: How do we know when a new word is created? People coin words all the time-who decides when they officially get to join the English language?

Actually, it appears that the Global Language Monitor gets to make that decision-at least as far as their research is concerned.

Currently, they are trying to decide which words have the honour of becoming the millionth word in the English language.

According to the articles referenced above, here are some of the contestants:

•    Defollow
•    Defriend
•    Greenwashing
•    Noob
•    Chiconomics
•    Bangster (a combination of bankster and gangster)
•    Mobama
•    Recessionista
•    Wonderstar (think Susan Boyle)

Which word will be the winner? And how does the Global Language Monitor get the authority to declare that “greenwashing” is just now a word? Or “noob”?

And do these guys actually look up the words they are considering on UrbanDictionary.com? Because if they did, I don’t know why they’d consider assigning “chiconomics” to the historic role of the English language’s millionth word.

WARNING: If you are easily offended, please avoid looking up “chiconomics” at Urban Dictionary’s site.

Since this seems to be an arbitrary decision-making process for an arbitrary milestone, perhaps they should set up a website and let people vote on which of these words will be the “official” millionth word in the English language. Power to the people!

The English Language Goes Social

2009 was the year the English language officially went social, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

First, in November, the Oxford English Dictionary declared “unfriend” to be the “Word of the Year.” Now, Oxford English Press has released a new list of “Words of the Year,” several of which also come from the world of social networking.

According to the Telegraph, the list was compiled by dictionary expert Susie Dent for the Oxford English Press, and it definitely illustrates how much the rise of social networking sites is changing our language. Here’s a quick breakdown of the words that were drawn from social media and the Internet:

  • Tweetup: A gathering, organized via Twitter, where Twitter users meet in real life.
  • Hashtags: A way to track topics and conversations on Twitter by placing the hash sign (#) before the topic of the  post. Hashtags are often used to organize tweetups.
  • Tag cloud- A way to show readers what topics are the most important or most frequently discussed on a blog by arranging the tags in a loose cloud formation, with most frequently used tags larger than the others.
  • Slashdot effect: What happens when a larger, more popular website links to a smaller site, sending a flood of new traffic that causes the smaller site to slow down or crash.

It’s not just the Oxford English Dictionary, either. The Global Language Monitor’s Word of the Year from 2009 was “Twitter.”

In an article on the PC Monitor, Paul Payack, the President of the Global Language Monitor, explained the decision by saying, “In a year dominated by world-shaking political events, a pandemic, the after effects of a financial tsunami and the death of a revered pop icon, the word Twitter stands above all the other words.”

To Tweet or Not To Tweet-That Is the Question

Well, its official. “Twitter” has officially joined the English language as a verb, at least according to the Associated Press.

The latest addition of the AP’s Stylebook (the style Bible for most of the press) includes the verb “to Twitter” as acceptable usage. Of course, if you use Twitter, you may be aware that some people say “to tweet” instead of “to twitter.”

Snotty grammar geeks on both sides of the divide often step up to ostentatiously correct each other in blog comments and forums.

Currently, it’s almost impossible to talk about Twitter without sounding foolish to somebody. Nobody disputes that an update posted on Twitter is a tweet, but saying “I just posted a tweet” sounds awkward, so you really do have to take sides.

Has the AP settled the debate? Actually, no… They have also approved the use of “tweet” as a verb, leaving the word choice up to individual writers.

So which is it, to twitter or to tweet? The AP may not be taking sides, but Twitter co-founder Biz Stone did, in an interview with TV show The View, last month. According to Mr. Stone, “to Twitter” is the preferred nomenclature.

In addition to approving the use of “twitter” and “tweet,” the AP Stylebook also has its very own Twitter account. You can keep in touch with them by following @ AP Stylebook. However, they don’t take grammar questions through the Twitter account. If you have additional questions about how to write about Twitter’s products and services, you can use the “Ask the Editor” feature on the AP website.

By the way, a couple of weeks ago, we reported that the English language was about to acquire its one-millionth word, at least according to the publicity-hungry folks at the Global Language Monitor. Oddly enough, the one-millionth word was recently declared to be “Web 2.0.”

Akkadian Dictionary Finally Published

Over 4,000 years after the death of Sargon the Great, scholars have finally finished compiling a dictionary for the Akkadian language.

The Akkadian language is probably the first language in the world that was written down, using a set of small, stylized pictures called cuneiform. From its origins in the ancient city-state of Akkad in what is now Iraq, use of the language spread along with Sargon’s empire to cover much of the Middle East. The Code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest known written legal codes, was written in this language.

Speaking to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Gil Stein, head of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, which compiled the dictionary, explained the project’s importance:

“The Assyrian Dictionary gives us the key into the world’s first urban civilization. Virtually everything that we take for granted … has its origins in Mesopotamia, whether it’s the origins of cities, of state societies, the invention of the wheel, the way we measure time, and most important the invention of writing. If we ever want to understand our roots, we have to understand this first great civilization.”

Work on the dictionary started in 1921. Back then, scholars thought they were looking at the Assyrian language, so the project is called the “Chicago Assyrian Dictionary” even though the language in question was later found to be Akkadian, of which Assyrian is simply a dialect.  Read more

Dictionary of American Regional English Just Released

The Dictionary of American Regional English has just been completed and is now available to the general public. Why would you need another dictionary, you may ask?

The Dictionary of American Regional English is not a normal dictionary at all. 50 years in the making, it is a compilation of all the different regional dialects that Americans use in daily conversation.

This book would be especially useful for anyone planning a road trip across the country, but it’s also just plain interesting to see how English has mutated in different regions of the country.

The difference in speech between regions goes far beyond “y’all” (a southern word that’s basically a shortened version of “you all” and is used when directly addressing more than one person) and “youse guys” (same thing, only up north).

The ContraCosta Times has a review of the book that excerpts some of the more interesting pieces of dialect. For example, did you know that in Utah, a sow bug is called a “tabernacle?” or that in some parts of Appalachia, a “stool” is an invitation to a party?

One can only imagine the confusion that would ensue if someone from another part of the country heard a group of mountain folk talking about “passing out stools.” In Oklahoma, a dust storm is rather poetically called “Oklahoma rain.”

Earlier versions of the dictionary have also been used to track down criminals based on the dialect used in their letters and to decipher the speech of former President Bill Clinton, whose “folksy” speech sometimes required interpretation for those not born in Arkansas.

The former president once left a roomful of reporters scratching their heads in confusion after he told them that an Air Force official didn’t know him “from Adam’s off ox.” In Arkansas, according to the book review, an “off ox” is “one of two oxen in a team.”

5,000 New German Words

According to the BBC around 5,000 new words have been added to the German language in the latest edition of the well respected German dictionary, Duden. Most of the new words have come from the English speaking world.

New terms have been added such as ‘After show party’, ‘No-go area’, ‘It girl’ and ‘Babyblues’.

Twitter fans also gained a new word ‘Twittern’, which means to Twitter (or to Tweet, which ever you prefer).

New words have also come from the current global financial Crisis. ‘Kreditklemme’, meaning credit crunch has appeared for the first time. Other new words include ‘Konjunkturpaket’ which means ‘stimulus package’ and ‘Abwrackpraemie’ this translates as ‘car scrappage bonus’.

The German language is well known for its use and creation of extremely long compound nouns, for example the new edition of the dictionary includes a fantastic 23 letter example ‘vorratsdatenspeicherung’ which translates as ‘telecommunications data retention’.

The Duden was first published in 1880 by Konrad Duden. New editions of the dictionary are released every four or five years.