The Global Language Monitor, a website that uses a math formula to estimate how often words are created, has announced "Web 2.0" as the estimated millionth word in the English language. On Wednesday at 5:22 a.m. - the exact time that the Global Language Monitor had predicted - "Web 2.0" hit the million-word mark. As some watched the Web site’s “English Language Wordclock” count down until the final moment, others debated whether the idea of counting words even exists as a practical concept.
The Global Language Monitor, which has been tracking English words since 2003, uses a Predictive Quantities Indicator (PQI) to evaluate word usage. Every word gets analyzed regarding its number of citations, geographic extent and number of appearances in various forms of media (including but not limited to: global print and electronic media, the Internet, the blogosphere and social media). Once a word has made 25,000 appearances and makes sense in at least 60 percent of the world, it becomes marked as an official part of the English language, according to the Global Language Monitor. Currently, the Web site finds approximately one new English word every 98 minutes.
The Global Language Monitor cited a list of words that were in the running of the “Million Word March,” which included words such as: Mobama — relating to the fashion-sense of the U.S. First Lady; Jai Ho! — from the Hindi, “it is accomplished” (achieved English-language popularity through the multiple Academy Award Winner, “Slumdog Millionaire”); N00b — a disparaging term referring to a neophyte in playing a particular game; and Sexting — sending email or text messages with sexual content. Web 2.0 had the highest PQI score, though, which enabled it to rise above the contenders and become 1,000,000th.
According to Paul J.J. Payack, president and chief word analyst for the Global Language Monitor, English has the most words of any language. Although several language experts agree with Payack that English typically has more words than most other languages, many experts disagree that there is a way to put a number on these words.
"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."
According to Sheidlower, the Oxford English Dictionary’s approximate 600,000 entries do not come near to including all English words.
Aside from the issue of certain words' absences in formal references like dictionaries, those trying to count a language's total words are faced with questions such as: whether to count every number, how to deal with single words that contain more than one meaning, how to count something that is always changing and what gives something the ability to be classified as a word in general.
The Global Language Monitor Web site explains that one can make the same argument of immeasurability for anything a human tries to quantify, such as the number of stars in the galaxy, or the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (hence the prediction of Global Warming).
Payack credits his strong technology background for motivating him to see possibility in a project that some call unachievable: “In this type of environment, one rarely ponders why something cannot be done, but rather how to make something happen that has never been done before.”
Payack also stresses that the word-count estimation of the “Million Word March” is not as important as the idea behind it, which consists of showing that English is “the first truly global language.”