Ben Zimmer has once again written a cutting post about Global Language Monitor, its absurd claim that the English language is about to get its millionth word, and the news sources that blindly regurgitate GLM’s warmed-over press releases about that. I know it’s become cliche, upon reading an article that one disagrees with, to ask “So this is what passes for journalism these days?” But articles like the BBC’s really demand that question. Here’s another, from the Telegraph, touting an obviously false claim: “One millionth English word could be ‘defriend’ or ‘noob’.”
First off, to the reporter’s credit, he manages to answer one question about GLM’s methodology; a word is a word by their count once it has been attested 25,000 times “by media outlets, on social networking websites and in other sources.” This information is not available on GLM’s website — I searched for 25,000, 25000, “twenty-five thousand”, “twenty five thousand”, “twentyfive thousand”, and “25 thousand” on the GLM website and didn’t get a single hit. So kudos to the reporter for getting this nugget out!
But then the whole enterprise falls apart. The article notes that among the words GLM is “currently monitoring which could take English to the one million threshold” is noob. If that’s the case, then GLM’s monitors are incompetent. I popped over to MySpace, which surely would be included in any reasonable list of social networking sites, and lo! 145,000 hits. It’s already a word by GLM’s arbitrary standard! Who is GLM using to monitor the social sites? Clearly they ought to be fired. If noob, which has been in wide use by computer folks since the turn of the millennium, managed to slip under their nose, think of how many other unnoticed words there are! For all we know, English might have already passed this made-up milestone a month ago! To call this possibility a tragedy is an unacceptable understatement. And the claim that noob hadn’t been yet used 25,000 times on the Internet — where it was born all those years ago! — didn’t set off any alarms at the Telegraph?
How credulous can one be? Here’s the lead paragraph of the Telegraph article:
“The milestone will be passed at 10.22am on June 10 according to the Global Language Monitor, an association of academics that tracks the use of new words.”
And the last paragraph:
“The organisation first predicted that the millionth English word was imminent in 2006, and has repeatedly pushed back the expected date. Other linguist[s] have expressed scepticism about its methods, claiming that there is no agreement about how to classify a word.”
Of course if the first guess was only off by three years, it’s totally reasonable to assume the current guess is off by less than a minute.
Also, “other linguists” implies that Paul Payack is a linguist. He is not. I’m not even convinced he or his merry monitors can be called academics. They are entrepreneurs at best, and they are peddling nothing worth acknowledging.