In Search of the Millionth Word


When you went to bed last night, there were 999,985 words in the English language.  The Global Language Monitor website keeps a count of the total number of English words found on the Internet.  They say a new word is added to the language about every hour and a half.  The website had a clock set up, counting down the minutes and seconds.  Around dawn, the number of words jumped to 1,000,001.  They had a lot of information available about how the words were counted and checked.  I learned a lot about statistics and language, definitions of “definition” and what words were actually counted as true words.  However, the one thing the site neglected to mention was what – exactly – the millionth word was.

I thought the millionth English word might be something obvious that had been overlooked up to that point.  “Word” was listed.  “English” was in there as well.  “Millionth” was – technically – out of the running.  The FAQ (also out of the running; “FAQ” is an acronym) said they didn’t count numbers that were written out.  Otherwise, “million” would literally be the millionth word.  Names didn’t count either.  “Bob” is in the dictionary, but it describes the action of waves upon a floating object.  For example: “What do you call a man with no arms and no legs in the middle of the lake?”

In the back of my mind, I did have some doubts as to whether or not there really were a million words in the English language.  I was an English major in college.  Less than twenty years ago, our copy of the Oxford English Dictionary defined slightly over 200,000 words.  Could the language really have quintupled in that time?

By the way, I checked “quintuple”; it was listed.

Maybe the monitor system counted all the misspellings on the Internet as separate words.  Ironically, the biggest problem I had was not with the words, but with the math.  If a new word was created every 98 minutes as they claimed, that meant English started out with a single word back in 1822.

While I was researching the words for this post, the Global Language Monitor website refreshed and the clock stopped in celebration.  By the way, GLM is an Internet firm that tracks word usage around the world, keeping their eye on trends in language as it pertains to culture, politics and their clients.  The official millionth word in the English language was “Web 2.0”.  The official definition: “The next generation of web products and services, coming soon to a browser near you.”

Words escaped me at that moment.

“Ovaltine” isn’t counted as a true word, being a copyrighted trademark.  However, I felt a bit like Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he discovers the secret messages so important to Little Orphan Annie are nothing but crummy commercials.

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One comment

  1. Very nice piece. We, too, were disappointed that Web 2.0 took the top spot, but feel that 999,988 – 1,000,001 are representative of our time. Also, English is generating words at it current pace at this moment, not in the past. Since there are currently 1.5 billion speakers (and the internet transferring thoughts at the speed of light) the situation seems optimal for word creation.

    Hey send us some ideas about the new words you create (or encounter).

    PJJP

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