Writing in today’s Telegraph, Simon Winchester celebrates the joys of English, “our truly global language”, which should soon number 1 million words.
Here’s his eye-witness account of the moment one of them was created.
And so, in every gruesome detail, and in an open-plan Thameslink carriage, I related the saga: the sharpening of the blade, the tying of the ligature, the gritted teeth, the fatal slice – and, as I said this, so every whey-faced businessman in the carriage crossed his legs reflexively. There was a sudden corporate gasp.
But not from the two old ladies. They remained quite impassive, thinking. I could see the lexicographical gears grinding in their minds. Then suddenly, and in unison I swear, they spoke: “Autopeotomy!” they cried. Then one to the other: “Yes, Mildred – peotomy is the amputation of the penis. But doing it yourself – that must be autopeotomy. A neologism, I am sure. And Mr Winchester, if you can include this new word in an illustrative sentence in the book you are writing, then we will include it in the next edition of the OED, and you’ll be a small part of history.”
You can read the rest of Simon’s article here (but gentlemen be warned, there’s more gruesome detail). The candidates for the one millionth English word are:
Chengguan Urban management officers, a cross between mayors, sheriffs and city managers.
Jai Ho! From the Hindi, “It is accomplished”; achieved English-language popularity through the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.
Mobama Relating to the fashion sense of the US First Lady, as in “that is quite mobama-ish”.
Noob From the gamer community; a neophyte in playing a particular game; used as a disparaging term.
Phelpsian The accomplishments of Michael Phelps at the Beijing Olympics.
Quendy-Trendy British youth-speak for hip or up-to-date.
Wonderstar As in Susan Boyle, an overnight sensation, exceeding all reasonable expectations.
Zombie Banks Banks that would be dead if not for government intervention.
I’m not bowled over by these. What do you think – any comments or candidates? Surely there must be more from the social media, science, the recession?
Illustration courtesy of Dan Allison.
By Marian Dougan