Dot Wordsworth

Mind Your Language | 20 June 2009

‘What do they mean by the millionth word?’ asked my husband as he turned away from Jeremy Paxman’s houndlike physiognomy and towards his whisky glass.

‘What do they mean by the millionth word?’ asked my husband as he turned away from Jeremy Paxman’s houndlike physiognomy and towards his whisky glass.

‘What do they mean by the millionth word?’ asked my husband as he turned away from Jeremy Paxman’s houndlike physiognomy and towards his whisky glass. What indeed?

It seems that an American company had got up a PR stunt that caught the imagination of the press. As that reliable old linguistician, Professor David Crystal remarked, ‘It is total nonsense. English reached a million words years ago.’ All the more disappointingly, the word chosen by the American publicity people was Web 2.0. This is a vague term for a new generation of phenomena on the World Wide Web. It is not a very new word, having been coined, it is generally acknowledged, in 2004 by Tim O’Reilly, a grand computer-book publisher.

I discovered this because I did not know how to pronounce Web 2.0. Mr O’Reilly favours the pronunciation ‘web two point zero’. The man who invented the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners Lee, prefers ‘web two dot oh’. Naturally I lean towards dot, and towards oh.

It is mere ignorance to suppose that zero is the only name for ‘nought’. The word O, meaning ‘zero’, has been in use since the 15th century and was used by Shakespeare (Lear I. iv. 174). The word zero is not recorded in English before 1604. The technical term previously was cipher.

Catherine Sangster, of the BBC Pronunciation Unit, says on her blog that she will probably recommend ‘two point oh’ as the pronunciation. I’m sorry to lose the dot, but I can see that point is more often used in numbering systems.

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