language and words in the news

In the News: One Million Words of English. (More or less.)

© Stephen Coburn / Fotolia.comAn outfit in Austin, Texas called the Global Language Monitor has announced that the English language has one million words. Well, it has had, they say, since 10:22 a.m. Stratford-on-Avon time on June 10th. (Actually, the town is called Stratford-upon-Avon, but let’s not quibble. And also, the countdown clock on their website counted down to 10:22 a.m. GMT, which is not the same as Stratford-[up]on-Avon time, which currently runs one hour ahead of GMT, in common with the rest of the UK, which observes British Summer Time at this time of year. But let’s not quibble about that either. It’s obviously good to get Shakespeare’s birthplace involved when we’re talking about English.)

They’ve arrived at this conclusion with the help of what they describe as a “proprietary algorithm” going under the name of The Predictive Quantities Indicator (PQI), which “tracks the frequency of words and phrases in the global print and electronic media, on the Internet, throughout the Blogosphere …” Hmm.

What’s more, there’s not just one PQI: “There are two differing PQIs. When analyzing words and phrases in political contexts, GLM uses the Political-sensitivity Quotient Index; when analyzing words and phrases in any other context, GLM uses a slightly different Predictive Quantities Indicator.”


Or maybe not. For this to have any credibility at all, the Global Language Monitor would need to convince us that they know the answer to the question “what exactly qualifies as a word”. And to the question “what exactly qualifies as English”. (And to quite a few further questions besides.)

They tell us that one of the candidates for the millionth word is Financial Tsunami. Is Financial Tsunami really a word? Is Tsunami really English? What about Financial Meltdown (which seems to be rather more frequent than Financial Tsunami). And what about Financial Times? Is that a word?

Reuters quotes Professor Geoffrey Nunberg of the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley as saying “It’s not bad science” (good news for the Global Language Monitor, then). “It’s nonsense.” (Oh, so not such good news after all.)

Using my own patented Publicity Stunt Detector (PSD) I can confirm that this story is, in fact, a grade A publicity stunt, and, what’s more, that it makes use of just one out of 342,795 possible PR techniques.

About the author


Stephen Bullon


  • Thank you for a delightful word on words [I do enjoy words and all the pleasure they provide] – and I do believe that your PSD should be used in judging all kinds of articles. So much of today’s writings are…publicity stunts of one sort or another.

  • Hi Vikalp. Thanks for your question. I think you will find if you read the post to the end that the author was highly sceptical about this claim and indeed regarded it as nothing more than a PR stunt.

    The most complete dictionary of the English language is the Oxford English Dictionary but I can’t tell you offhand how many words it currently describes (and as Stephen says, there’s no watertight definition of what constitutes a word anyway).

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