Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Useless Data CHUTZPAH

Given the attention they have managed to garner, it seems appropriate that the Texas-based Global Language Monitor receive this week's Chutzpah of the Week award. According to this morning's BBC NEWS report, this is what they do:

Global Language Monitor (GLM) searches the internet for newly coined terms, and once a word or phrase has been used 25,000 times, it recognises it.

Their act of chutzpah is the use of this method to declare the "millionth English word." To those of us who still honor sources like the Oxford English Dictionary, however, there is something disconcerting about this result:

GLM said Web 2.0 beat out the terms Jai ho, N00b and slumdog to take top spot.

What amuses me is that this "winner" is a term that has its own obsolescence built into its structure: I just did a Google phrase search on "Web 3.0;" and it returned 3,400,000 hits! Needless to say, the competitors are just as disconcerting for other reasons:

The terms Jai ho and slumdog originate from the hit movie Slumdog Millionaire, about India's slum dwellers.

But N00b comes from the gaming community, the company said, explaining that it is used as a disparaging term to describe a neophyte in a particular game.

It is also the "only mainstream English word that contains within itself two numerals", GLM said in a statement posted on its website.

In other words all it takes is sufficient buzz over a new movie (preferably one about some other culture) to beef up the GLM "lexicon" (I really have to use scare quotes there). As to that "mainstream English word that contains within itself two numerals," we old-timers recognize the use of "newbie" from the early days of Usenet; does abbreviation for the "texting generation" make for a new "word?" Is "CU L8R" already on the GLM list?

The only beneficiary of this silliness seems to have been Simon Winchester, who, not content to have written a book about the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary, used the anticipation of the "millionth word" to write an overly long meditation on a topic he has already worked to death. Among all that verbiage he managed to misspell "N00b," as "noob;" no texting maven he! Still, Winchester can be accused of little more than self-promotion. The real chutzpah resides in GLM's rather warped approach to what a lexicon is and the role it plays in communication. Confusing that with getting people to pay for figuring out how to cash in on keyword advertising is where we find the sort of chutzpah that deserves an award!

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