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Date: 25/05/2016
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Millionth word my ????

Dot Wordsworth, worth her weight in words and dots, makes short shrift of this millionth word malarkey:

What do they mean by the millionth word?’ asked my husband as he turned away from Jeremy Paxman’s houndlike physiognomy and towards his whisky glass. What indeed?

It seems that an American company had got up a PR stunt that caught the imagination of the press. As that reliable old linguistician, Professor David Crystal remarked, ‘It is total nonsense. English reached a million words years ago.’ All the more disappointingly, the word chosen by the American publicity people was Web 2.0. This is a vague term for a new generation of phenomena on the World Wide Web. It is not a very new word, having been coined, it is generally acknowledged, in 2004 by Tim O’Reilly, a grand computer-book publisher.

I discovered this because I did not know how to pronounce Web 2.0. Mr O’Reilly favours the pronunciation ‘web two point zero’. The man who invented the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners Lee, prefers ‘web two dot oh’. Naturally I lean towards dot, and towards oh.

It is mere ignorance to suppose that zero is the only name for ‘nought’. The word O, meaning ‘zero’, has been in use since the 15th century and was used by Shakespeare (Lear I. iv. 174). The word zero is not recorded in English before 1604. The technical term previously was cipher.

Catherine Sangster, of the BBC Pronunciation Unit, says on her blog that she will probably recommend ‘two point oh’ as the pronunciation. I’m sorry to lose the dot, but I can see that point is more often used in numbering systems.

The use in print of the different forms O and 0 introduces new tangles for verbal denizens of the computer undergrowth. Another PR candidate for the millionth word was n00b. Here the pronunciation (‘noob’) is clear but the orthography dubious. The double zero seems merely decorative. N00b or noob means ‘neophyte’ in the computer world. It seems to come from newby, which itself first appeared in about 1970, deriving no doubt from schoolboy slang for ‘new boy’. Since Americans pronounce new as noo, the way was clear for the diminutive noob.

As a new girl (n00g) in the shallows of the web-footed fen I am glad to find that playfulness in language thrives there. Since educated people use about 50,000 different words, a million give space for splashing about.

I don't know about the millionth word, but I imagine the trillionth word has got to be cat.

What's the umpteenth word, though?

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