Magazine Predicts 'The World In 2009'
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep. Here's a prediction that might be useful: "Some of what you're about to hear may turn out to be wrong." That warning comes from Daniel Franklin, our next guest. He's the editor of a collection of predictions called "The World in 2009." It's compiled by The Economist Magazine, and it tackles important subjects - like the financial crisis, global warming, the balance of power around the world - and it also goes out on a limb with some offbeat predictions, including a prediction about the English language.
Mr. DANIEL FRANKLIN (Executive Director, The Economist): There's a faintly spurious claim by one particular outfit that says that the English language will reach a million words in 2009, and of course, we have a bit of fun with this, because, who's counting, after all? It's very difficult to say how many words there are in the English language, and of course, what is a word? Do you call is, was, were, one word, or is it several words?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FRANKLIN: And when does a word become English? You know, if it's commonly used in French and...
Mr. FRANKLIN: Indian and so on.
INSKEEP: Well, I'd love to know how somebody managed to predict that it would be in April of 2009 - in fact, they give a date, April 29th - that the millionth will be coined.
Mr. FRANKLIN: I think it has to do with computers, and they run their account of what constitutes a bona fide word based on some dictionary counting, and then they - hey, presto - they reach a particular date. But that was really the wistful beginning of musing on the future of the English language.
INSKEEP: I'm also impressed to note that here in the world in 2009, that you're willing to predict that a new species will bird be discovered in China.
Mr. FRANKLIN: Well, you know, it's interesting that one of the changes that's coming with growing affluence in China is that the rise of twitchers, of bird watchers.
INSKEEP: Twitchers, that is the 875,000th word in the English language?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FRANKLIN: That's already been around for some time. Bird watchers are becoming increasingly common in China. And of course, the other thing that's making it particularly, if you like, important as a pastime is that bird - because the rapid pace of development, the habitat for some birds is disappearing, and so, there's a, perhaps a growing need to monitor the bird life there. So, I think there's a growing army of Chinese who are keen ornithologists.
INSKEEP: And you point out that you're talking about amateur bird watchers. Are we learning something about China here, that a number of Chinese now have more leisure time, perhaps, than they did in the past?
Mr. FRANKLIN: Exactly, exactly that. This is something that does take time, that does require a certain amount of wealth, and the ability to turn away from work and spend time peacefully in nature with some equipment, looking out for birds.
INSKEEP: Now, you're trying see into the future here, but you take a moment to recollect how your predictions 2008 turned out. And I'm seeing a headline here, it says, "About 2008, Sorry."
Mr. FRANKLIN: Yes, well, I wrote that. We try to be quite honest about how we did last year. And of course, this has been an extraordinary year, with financial institutions and once-solid icons of banking disappearing or getting into serious troubles, unheard-of rescues taking place. So, we frankly didn't see the extent of that coming; although we did see that it was going to be very difficult economically. So, it's good, I think, to have an honest reckoning, and say, look, we didn't quite see the severity of that.
INSKEEP: You forecast Hillary Clinton to be...
Mr. FRANKLIN: To be president. We thought that at this time she'd be preparing to enter the White House, and we got that wrong. We - it seemed like a sensible prediction at the time, but of course, Barack Obama ran an absolutely brilliant campaign, and he has come through and dominates, I think, many of the predictions for this year.
INSKEEP: Some people might call this spin, but I'm going to give you a little bit of credit here. You're writing that you thing that making predictions is a useful exercise even if a lot of them turn out to be wrong.
Mr. FRANKLIN: I think that's right. What you have here assembled is a collection of the best guesses of people who're prepared to stick their neck out at a given point in time, and also, a sense not only necessarily of what will happen, but the sorts of things that are going to matter in the year ahead. And I think that's helpful as people plan ahead, and as you pointed out in some of the stories you've mentioned, also quite entertaining at times.
INSKEEP: OK. Seeking one more prediction from you, will Brittany Spears finally appear on the cover of The Economist?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FRANKLIN: Well, we've had Paris Hilton on one of our sister publications, so who knows?
INSKEEP: Daniel Franklin of The Economist, thanks very much.
Mr. FRANKLIN: Thank you very much.