14 December 2009 | Team Tamar

Do not misunderestimate the power of words

It is a bad idea to misunderestimate the power of the interwebs.

This past year the world cheered to Obamamania, suffered a financial tsunami, saw the rise of zombie banks and recessionista’s, and decided to start paying more attention to green washing and e-vampires. We saw the rise (and fall) of wonderstars like Susan Boyle (who also topped 100 million views on Youtube earlier this year), and we all learnt to use the word slumdog. We de-friended and de-followed on Facebook and Twitter and  thanks to a growing awareness of global warming, carbon neutral has become a household word. And bloggers like Perez Hilton helped bring words like sexting and octomom to the mainstream.

But which words stood out above the crowd? And what insights can they offer us?web-2

In June this year, the English language formally welcomed its one millionth word. And, no, that word was not Twitter (although Twitter was named the most popular word of 2009).

The millionth word is Web 2.0. The internet strikes again. English is without a doubt the global language of technology, business, science, entertainment and – the Internet.

Ok, the chosen word did have some competition, but really – in this digital era, what sort of hope did any of the words in the first paragraph of this blog have?

Tracking the number of words in the English language is not a precise art, since neologisms are coined all the time (about 14.7 of them a day). The Global Language Monitor is a Texas based company which ran the study to determine the millionth word. Global Language Monitor has been tracking English word creation since 2003. Once it identifies new words it measures their extent and depth of usage with its Predictive Quantities Indicator (PQI) technology.

In order to determine which new word was most worthy of the title of millionth word, each word (or phrase, if you want to be technical about it) was analysed to determine which was attaining the greatest depth (number of citations) and breadth (geographic extent of word usage), as well as number of appearances in global print and electronic media, the Internet, the blogosphere and social media. The word with the highest score was Web 2.0.

Some linguistic experts disagree as to the validity of the study, but instead of debating the many factors involved in deciding which word deserves the title, I’m going to comment on the chosen word.

According to Global Language Monitor Web 2.0 is defined as “the next generation of World Wide Web products and services”. According to Wikipedia (now there’s a good example of a neologism that has been completely assimilated into the mainstream) the term Web 2.0 “is commonly associated with web applications that facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centred design and collaboration on the World Wide Web.”

In my humble opinion it is about creating a fluid, personalised online experience for each individual on the web. Basically, I believe Web 2.0 has taken us from publishing to participation, from personal websites to blogging, from directories to tagging … and it will take as further still.

The reason these sorts of studies are so important to me is because I feel they define the future of the communications industry – including to a very large extent the internet and its endless capabilities. Already there is talk of Web 3.0 – and while it is still very much undefined, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has described the semantic web as a component of Web 3.0.

The semantic web is about making it possible for the web to understand – the way another human would – and satisfy the requests of people and machines who use the web. With English gaining a new word every 98 minutes it is important for writers and web users to keep up, to stay in touch and to be able to move with the times – or the language, as the case may be.


Team Tamar