Paul Payak of the Global Language Monitor is claiming the 1 millionth English word is coming soon. He says a new English word is coined every 98 minutes, so the 1 million marker will arrive about 15 days hence. The CBS article that tipped me off to this is pretty amusing in the quotes it selected from linguists, which resoundingly cried “bullshit.” But the best quote came from Payak himself:
We believe words can be counted if you define them in the right way. You can count them like anything else in science. You can count how many atoms there are in the ocean.
Let’s think about counting the atoms in the ocean for a moment. What about where rivers flow into the ocean? Where is the boundary line? Salt and fresh water are mingling quite a bit and finding the exact boundary is pretty much impossible. If we draw an arbitrary line, surely we will get too much in one place and too little in another. Also, what about rain and evaporation? Counting the atoms would require an instantaneous snapshot of the entire ocean at the atomic level. It can’t be done.
You run into similar problems counting words. Compound words blend into single words and words leave the language as well as enter it. How do you detect this? You’d need a snapshot of the entire English language as it is spoken, typed, and read all around the world. What is a word in one dialect isn’t necessarily a word in another dialect. Where do you draw the line?