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Net returns for English language

Web plays key role in determining new words

Will “drunkle” catch on as the best way to describe a relative who overindulges at family parties?

And will people start using the term “earthonomics” to describe the financial impact of ecological products?

New words and phrases have often emerged from popular movies, books and TV shows — think of “regifter” or “close-talker” from the “Seinfeld” series. But now, thanks to the Internet, a new word can emerge faster than you can say metrosexual or McJob.

Sites such as Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com) and Addictionary (www.addictionary.org) engage visitors in a continuous attempt to expand the English language. New words are sought for certain items or situations, and people submit suggestions. Other people then vote on whether they approve of the words.

Example: What is the feeling one gets after running a marathon with nothing to eat or drink? Some suggestions on Addictionary: “endorfaint” and “cameled.”

According to a language expert at the University of Manitoba, this type of grassroots language development is healthy.

The web opens up “a more democratic space” for the general population to decide the validity of words, says Jennifer Clary-Lemon, an assistant English professor who specializes in the use of language in everyday talk and the news media. “It speeds up those kind of processes in ways that were once really impossible.”

Most new words, of course, are destined for the trash bin. Words or phrases can only survive if they are widely adopted, and that’s where the ever-growing reach of the Internet can play a key role.

Within days of the miraculous landing of a U.S. Airways plane in New York’s Hudson River — a landing that all passengers and crew survived — the phrase “Land it in the Hudson” started popping up on blogs to describe any type of heroic effort.

“It’s coming from the bottom up, not the top-down, and that’s just the age of the Internet,” said Jim Banister, chief executive officer of Utah-based SpectrumDNA, which runs Addictionary.

 
 
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