The one-millionth entry into the English language may be a sign of the times, but as words go it's a bit on the bland side - and, one could argue, not even a word.
Quibbles aside, the Global Language Monitor announced on schedule early yesterday its choice for the milestone millionth word: Web 2.0.
The winner, which refers to the next generation of the Internet, narrowly defeated far jazzier choices, such as n00b (spelled with two zeroes), a variation on rookie, and Jai ho! a Hindi exclamation meaning victory, according to Paul Payack, president and chief word analyst of the online dictionary.
Defending the marquee phrase, Mr. Payack said Web 2.0 would inform historians about the role of the Internet in 2009.
"It's indicative of the age, so it's not boring," he said. "If you had 'steam engine' [enter the language]in the 1800s that would have been pretty sexy."
Mr. Payack's website tracks emerging words in English, the world's most common language with 1.5 billion speakers, as well as its fastest growing. His system, which declares a word to have entered into wide use when it has been cited 25,000 times across many sources, communities and geographical locations, estimates a new word is born every 98 minutes.
While linguists debate the methodology - Mr. Payack excludes number and scientific terms, as well as tenses of root words - his experiment does reveal the organic growth of the English language, particularly with words bounced across the Internet, and blended with other languages, such as Hindi and Mandarin.
"English speakers are innately inventive," said Laurel Brinton, an English professor at the University of British Columbia who has written a history of the language.
Since English is the second and third language for so many people around the world, she said, it's no wonder that phrases often develop by mashing together words from various tongues. "English has always been a language that borrowed freely."
At the same time, Dr. Brinton is skeptical about Mr. Payack's approach, pointing out that many of the website's "new words" aren't likely to stand the test of time or build a truly global following.
Case in point, she said, is an annual list of new word nominees developed by the American Dialect Society - even the top choices often drop quickly off the lexicon. (How many people are still using "plutoed" in regular speech? Voted word of the year for 2006, it means to devalue something, a reference to Pluto losing its planet status.)
Dr. Brinton is working on an updated dictionary of Canadianisms with more strict standards: For instance, she is tracking the use of the word "snowmaggedon" to see if it survives another winter.
Mr. Payack conceded that many trendy words are unlikely to pop up in conversation half a century from now - presumably, we will eventually arrive at Web 3.0 - but he argues that they still play a role in defining the time that created them.
And, he points out, the rules of written English appear to be in flux, evolving beyond the use of only letters. He spells n00b - a word that originated among online gamers - with two zeroes, and suggests text-messaging abbreviations like gr8 will become accepted in widespread use.
"It shows that we are acquiring a far wider palette of ways to communicate in written formats," he said.
Meanwhile, the global language clock ticks on. Already, Mr. Payack's group has locked on to word 1,000,001: financial tsunami.
Now there's a phrase that says it all.
It's been more than 40 years since the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles was officially updated. A small team of language experts and students at the University of British Columbia is working on a new scholarly collection of words particular to the Canadian tongue. They have 4,549 potential entries in their database. But to make the final cut, a word must show signs of sticking around. Here's a sampling:
householder - pamphlets sent four time a year by MPs to their constituents
drinking box - juice box
ghost car - unmarked police car
blue box - recycling box
ramp ceremony - repatriation ceremony of soldiers killed in battle
acclamation - election without a ballot
parkade - parking structure
mainstreeting - campaigning in main street to win an election
all-dressed - all optional garnishes on fast food items
butter tart - a small tart with a filling of butter, eggs, and sugar, mixed with raisins
snowmaggedon - one whopper of a snowstorm
nipper - mosquito or other biting insect
shinny - informal game of ice hockey
homo - homogenized milk