Last updated at 13:36 BST, Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Millionth English word imminent

Summary

10 June 2009

It is being claimed that the millionth word in the English language is about to be created. A US company which follows the use of language on the internet has made the prediction. However traditional dictionary makers aren't so sure.... .

Reporter:
Lawrence Pollard

Dictionaries

Dictionary experts are doubtful

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The idea of the millionth word entering the English language is a brilliant bit of public relations for Texas-based Global Language Monitor. GLM runs a powerful search service which monitors web traffic. They make their money telling organisations how often their name is mentioned in new media, such as the internet.

What they can also do is search for newly coined words. Once a word has been used 25,000 times on social networking sites and such like, GLM declares it to be a new word. By their calculations a new word is created in English every 98 minutes, hence the estimate that the millionth word is about to be created.

If you talk to lexicographers, however, dictionary professionals, they tell a slightly different story. Dictionaries have tighter criteria about what constitutes a new word, for example, it has to be used over a certain period of time. Lexicographers will tell you that the exact size of English vocabulary is impossible to quantify, but if you accept every technical term or obscure specialist word then we're already way beyond a million. And if you restrict inclusion of specialist slang, then there are possibly three quarters of a million words in English. All of which is way beyond the 20 - 40,000 words that a fluent speaker would use, or the few thousand you could get by with in English. Basically, with 1.5 billion people speaking some version of the language, it's small wonder English is the fastest growing tongue in the world.

Lawrence Pollard, Arts Correspondent, London

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Vocabulary

public relations
the activity of keeping good relationships between an organisation and the people outside it - sometimes abbreviated to 'PR'
monitors web traffic
checks and keeps records of which websites people are visiting
newly coined
(refers to language only) recently invented or used for the first time
tighter criteria
stricter standards by which something is judged or decided
constitutes
is considered as
quantify
measure or count
obscure
not widely known
restrict inclusion of specialist slang
limit the addition of informal language
small wonder
not surprising
tongue
language

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