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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The millionth word

The English language has, since its inception, had a tendency to assimilate new words and phrases at an alarming rate, thus making it far more versatile than other languages and with a huge vocabulary that few others can rival. It has grown from Germanic, later incorporating features from French and Latin and evolving over time. Old words fall out of use, neologisms arrive and sometimes leave the scene in a flash.

Today, the Global Language Monitor (GLM), a company based in Austin, Texas announced that the 1 millionth word to enter the English language would be Web 2.0. What gives them the authority to decide you ask?

Here's a quote from The Economist to answer that question:

And by what authority does the Global Language Monitor say a new coinage is a genuine new word? None. Some countries, such as France and Spain, have academies that claim the right to regulate their national languages, and to repel invasive terms, usually from English. Neither England nor the United States attempts such an exercise in futility. English is a mongrel language that keeps its vitality by absorbing new words, uses and expressions. It promiscuously plunders other languages and delights in neologisms. It is the language of free traders and inventive entrepreneurs such as the staff of the Global Language Monitor.

GLM apparently uses a proprietary algorithm to search the internet, and track new words and their usage, the number of times it appears in specific texts etc. Based on this, they determine whether the word is worthy to be added into the English language.

The other words in the running included "Jai Ho", "slumdog" and "N00b". While the last term is tech talk for a person new to certain aspects of technology, be it a particular task on a PC or in playing a game, the other two words were clearly up there thanks to the hype that the film Slumdog Millionaire generated. I'm pretty happy (though I'm Indian) that those two words never got to be the millionth, else there'll be no end to the coverage that media channels would give them. I mean, the movie was OK, but to hype it to the point where people ask for a phrase like "Jai Ho" to be added to the English language is sheer lunacy.

Web 2.0 is a term that's been around for a long time. Right from 1999, when it was coined by Darcy DiNucci, and Tim O'Reilly made it famous via his media conference in 2004, to present day where's its use is ubiquitous. Web 2.0 is not a new technology as such, it isn't like differentiating between Firefox 2.0 and Firefox 3.0. Web 2.0 provides for the network (Internet in most cases) to be a platform for a person to do a task, provides the user with a richer web experience, enables greater user participation, dynamic content, and lets users run applications without the need for anything other than the web browser.

Examples of Web 2.0 include sites like Orkut, Youtube, Flickr and Wikis. With new words coming up en masse at a rapid pace, there's no surety that Web 2.0 will ever remain at the forefront. Just like so many before it, it too might fade away into the annals of history.


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