One million words (well, nearly)

Words medium

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

4 Responses

  1. Jai-ho gets my vote as it both reflects the multicultural make up of contemporary Britain (to the dismay of BNP) and is uplifting (what we need at the moment to get us through the gloom). I suggest it should always be shouted or sung to give it its full force.


    1. Am listening to it as I write (I haven’t seen the film yet).
      I wonder if Ayo Gorkhali (as yelled by Joanna Lumley) is already in the OED? But yes, something uplifting would do us all good.

  2. Dear Sir

    I wondered if you might like a link to both my Foreign word site and my English word website or press release details of my ensuing book with Penguin Press on amusing and interesting English vocabulary?

    with best wishes

    Adam Jacot de Boinod

    (author of The Meaning of Tingo)


    or wish to include:

    When photographers attempt to bring out our smiling faces by asking us
    to “Say Cheese”, many countries appear to follow suit with English
    equivalents. In Spanish however they say patata (potato), in Argentinian Spanish whisky, in French steak frites, in Serbia ptica (bird) and in
    Danish appelsin (orange). Do you know of any other varieties from around the world’s languages? See more on


    The Wonder of Whiffling is a tour of English around the globe (with fine
    coinages from our English-speaking cousins across the pond, Down Under
    and elsewhere).
    Discover all sorts of words you’ve always wished existed but never knew,
    such as fornale, to spend one’s money before it has been earned; cagg, a solemn vow or resolution not to get drunk for a certain time; and
    petrichor, the pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a
    dry spell.
    Delving passionately into the English language, I also discover why it
    is you wouldn’t want to have dinner with a vice admiral of the narrow
    seas, why Jacobites toasted the little gentleman in black velvet, and
    why a Nottingham Goodnight is better than one from anywhere else. See
    more on

    with best wishes


    1. Many thanks for getting in touch. My policy is to link to sites that I enjoy and use regularly. Until I’ve got to know your sites better, I’ll certainly bookmark and RSS them. In the meantime, I’d be delighted to host a guest post from you, including links, on any topic from your books that you’re particularly keen on or that’s relevant to my blog. Which in theory is about English and translating – in my case from Italian to English – but in practice seems to over a lot more besides.

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