Word crisis

By Sean Carroll | January 23, 2006 11:59 am

Forget about Peak Oil, here’s the real looming crisis: we’re running out of new words. Do you realize how hard it is, in our hyperactive age, to come up with a word that hasn’t already been invented for some purpose or another? Surely we’ve all had the experience of mistyping a word into Google and nevertheless hitting a handful of results. So as a little experiment, I made up some strings of letters that sounded like they could be words, checked in the dictionary that none of them actually exists as a conventional English word, and asked Google to go look for them. Here’s how many hits I got.

  • antrith (865)
  • splicky (230)
  • queigh (43)
  • nurdle (885)
  • tobnet (53)

“Splicky” is a pretty sweet-sounding word, actually; I’ll have to start dropping it into conversation. Admittedly, most non-words appear on Google as abbreviations or computer terms or simple nonsense, and furthermore it’s not that hard to invent random strings that don’t get any hits. Still, I’m worried. If Shakespeare were alive today, I’m pretty sure he’d feel that Google was cramping his style, coinage-wise.


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


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