A million English words, or only 600,000? Either way, it's a language packed with more words than you'll ever need

fcgm at hotlink.com.br fcgm at hotlink.com.br
Wed Jul 9 11:22:38 UTC 2008

Quoting Dennis Baron <debaron at illinois.edu>:

> There's a new post on the Web of Language:
> A million English words, or only 600,000?  Either way, it's a 
> language  packed with more words than you'll ever need
> Paul Payack, professional word-counter and the founder of  
> YourDictionary.com, claims that someone coins an English word every 
> 98  minutes, which seems pretty fast until we consider that during 
> the  word-coining frenzy of the 1590s, when the pace of life was 
> slower,  about 10,000 new words popped up every year.  If Shakespeare 
> and his  contemporaries never slept, that comes to a neologism every 
> 68 minutes  (neologism, a word, coined in France in the 1730s and 
> borrowed by  English in the 1770s, meaning 'a new word').
> Payack's words-per-minute assertion can't be tested, but if he's  
> right, then in the time it took me to write this post, somewhere in  
> the English-speaking world a new word was born, or two, if you count  
> revisions. We know they're out there.  We just don't know what they 
> are.
> Payack also predicts that some time around April 29, 2009 - mark your 
>  calendars - the one millionth English word will appear.  It's not  
> clear how he plans to tell the difference between that word and words 
>  999,999 and 1,000,001.  If you're planning to coin the millionth 
> word,  don't quit your day job, because even if your word wins the 
> millionth- word contest, no one's going to show up at your door with 
> a million- dollar check
> Anyway, the odometer of English isn't going to turn to one and six  
> zeroes next year, because most experts think that Payack has 
> seriously  overestimated the size of English, partly because he 
> includes such  oddities as staycation, 'vacationing at home because 
> gas is too  expensive' and e-vampire, 'an electronic device that 
> consumes  excessive amounts of energy.'
> Staycation and e-vampire are amusing products of the moment, and so  
> far, that's all they are. People who don't know what they mean aren't 
>  bothering to look them up, and it's likely that these words won't be 
>  around very long, because even if energy costs remain high, people  
> will still need to get away, and they'll take their gas-guzzling  
> iPhones and laptops with them, leaving staycationbehind with the  
> baggage "not wanted on the voyage," and driving a stake through the  
> heart of e-vampire.
> Payack's more conservative competitor, the Oxford English Dictionary, 
>  records about 600,000 English words, not as well-rounded as a 
> million,  but a sizable sum nonetheless, and while most of the 
> OED'swords are  time-tested, it too records plenty of words that you 
> will never need  to know, like stayless, 'ceaseless, ever-changing,' 
> or staxis, a  'slight defluxion of any humour, as nasal hæmorrhage,' 
> apparently the  18th-century equivalent of a bloody nose.  I found 
> these words while  trying to look upstaycation in the on-line OED - 
> staycation wasn't  there, despite its recent mention on the Daily 
> Show,
> if you're eagerly waiting for the millionth English word, imagine 
> what  it was like back in 1425 when people coined a new word every 7 
> hours  and spent their time wondering whether they'd make it to 1426, 
> not  waiting for the 100,000th word to come along.
> As always, you can read about it on the Web of Language
> DB
> ____________________
> Dennis Baron
> Professor of English and Linguistics
> Department of English
> University of Illinois
> 608 S. Wright St.
> Urbana, IL 61801
> office: 217-244-0568
> fax: 217-333-4321
> www.illinois.edu/goto/debaron
> read the Web of Language:
> www.uiuc.edu/goto/weboflanguage

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