Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Milestone, English!

Congratulations are in order for the English language. It appears that the 1 millionth English word was officially accepted into the English language last Wednesday.

One million words. Actually, a million and two or three, since there were other words entered into the official canon in the same batch.

Web 2.0 has the honor of being the millionth word, the word which establishes English as a language no person can hope to master in their lifetime.

How big would the scrabble dictionary be, to incorporate all those words? Even with condensed definitions and small font, you couldn't list more than 50 items a page. Which would make it, how many pages? Two pages for a hundred, twenty for a thousand, two hundred for ten thousand, two thousand for a hundred thousand, and twenty thousand pages for a million.

You would need a twenty thousand page dictionary to list all those words. Heck, even if you doubled the number of words per page, could you still imagine carrying around a ten thousand page book?

That's the entire Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan right there, with way more words per page. Which means that you wouldn't be carrying around a dictionary, so much as a shelf busting reference set.

Of course you could fit it all on a Kindle nicely, but good luck flipping through quickly.

Even if you find the perfect medium to carry all those words around in, there is yet the fact that this collection could never be truly authoritative. With every branch of science, industry, sports, and academia constantly creating new terms, or changing the meanings of old ones, it truly is an impossible task keeping tabs on the entire English language.

Which is why I can see just how a student of English might see the task of learning English itself. For even if you, as a teacher, manage to help your students learn several thousand words, what you would have given them would only be a mere cupful, with the ocean itself right outside the door.

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