2004 Words of the Year

It seems as if every language publication, web site, and organization comes out with its list of words of the year around this time of year. So, why should we be any different? What follows is a selection of words and phrases that came to the fore in this past year. The selection criterion was simply that the term be important in the past year. These are not necessarily terms that were coined in 2004, and in fact, only one term on the list was actually coined this past year. They are listed in alphabetical order and we have made no attempt to rank which of them is the most emblematic of the year.

The list is dominated by one theme, the war in Iraq. This was the most significant event of the year and many of the words and phrases that kept popping up in the media dealt with this issue. Given this, the list appears a bit grim, but so were the events of the year. Running a distant second is the US presidential election. After that, there are a smattering of terms dealing with other issues, a few more light-hearted, others not so much.

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Language Death, Part II

The issue of language death is a hot topic among linguists. Language death is the disappearance of dialects from the globe, the reduction in the number of dialects that are spoken worldwide. Most linguists agree that we are in the midst of an era where languages are disappearing at an extremely rapid rate and that this will result in various dire consequences for humanity and culture.

Last month, we examined the question of language death and how large a problem it is. This month, we’ll take a look at what the consequences of language death are and what can be done to address the problem.

Is it really a problem?
Isn’t the multiplicity of languages a barrier to communications? Wouldn’t a reduction in the number of languages improve the human condition and be a catalyst for peace? It is a common belief that a single language, or at least fewer languages, would make it easier for peoples to communicate, improve trade and economic conditions, and make war less likely.

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2004 Holiday Shopping List

What do you get the word lover in your family for Christmas? You get them a copy of Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends by David Wilton (Hardcover, Oxford University Press, 2004, $21.95). But of course they ran out to the book store on the first day the book was available, so that’s no good. What other books are out there that the discriminating logophile will enjoy? Here is a list, culled from those we’ve reviewed over the past few years.

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Internet or internet

2004 was a year of many milestones, but one small one that passed unnoticed by most was that on 16 August Wired News ceased to capitalize the word internet. “Effective with this sentence, Wired News will no longer capitalize the ‘I’ in internet,” wrote Tony Long, Wired News’ copy chief. On that date, Wired News also ceased to capitalize web and net, although it retains capitalization in World Wide Web.

The reason for capitalizing internet in the first place was that their are in actuality many different internets, or networks of computers linked by TCP/IP protocols (the IP stands for internet protocol). The largest of these, the global network with which we are all familiar, was capitalized to distinguish it from the smaller networks.

But the growth of the global internet brought about this change. It assimilated many of the smaller internets and those that survived as independent networks have been relegated to insignificance in the popular imagination. To most people, there is only one internet.

So Internet started losing its capital I. Like radio and television, it became just another communications medium and like those earlier technologies did not deserve a capital letter.

Some still capitalize it, of course. But the significance of the Wired News style change should not be underestimated. The practice of capitalizing the word is clearly on the way out.

Word of the Month: Christmas

December is a month of holidays that have spawned any number of words and phrases that, while familiar, do not have obvious etymologies. Many are based on traditions that are quite old and the words survive only in their holiday incarnations. So, our word of the month for this December is Christmas, n., the festival, or mass, of Christ’s nativity, celebrated on 25 December, from the Old English Cristes mæsse, before 1123.

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