Beyond Words - Language Blog

Web 2.0: The Millionth Word?

With Web 2.0 making its debut as the millionth word in the English language this past month (according to the Global Language Monitor) we have been introduced to a new interpretation of what we can classify as an English word.

What counts towards this million-word marker to begin with, given the many slang words that are created daily and the many compound words which are not included in many English dictionaries? Do we count the million odd insect species names or the 80 million chemical compounds?

While the millionth word may seem like a milestone in the history of the English language, it raises many questions among linguists and the general public.

I know that to most people, Web 2.0 does not seem like a word which should be included in any dictionary, much less count as the millionth word in the English language. Linguists who are supporting this new millionth word maintain that it appears in over 25,000 internet searches online, thereby making it popular enough to be construed as a word of importance within the language. While the word originated as a technical term referring to the next generation of web products, it has gained much circulation in the past six months, causing it to originally be considered amongst words like slumdog and n00b as a contender for the millionth word.

Many linguists maintain that it is impossible to count the words in the English language. Most don’t agree to how many times a word must be used before it is counted as an official English word. The easy acceptability of words from different cultures into the English language is one fact that additionally undermines the millionth marker of Web 2.0. With so many words constantly entering into the English language, it becomes nearly impossible to determine how many words are in existence today. The many Spanglish or Chinglish words which have roots in both languages are a sign of the many words which have English roots but are still unrecognized by such an overwhelming organization like the Global Language Monitor. While English still claims the most words when compared to Mandarin Chinese (which has roughly 500,000) or French (which has 100,000), it becomes pertinent to question why certain “authorities” who make claims on behalf of English feel that the language has the most words when compared to other modern languages, or why words such as Web 2.0 make their way into our lexicon. While many linguists still remain unconvinced as to the validity of such a word, many around the country still base their understanding of new words on the ability of Microsoft Word to recognize them within its own dictionary.
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This post was contributed by Caitlin Smith, who writes about associates degree programs. She welcomes your feedback at CaitlinSmith1117 at gmail.com