Magazine Predicts 'The World In 2009'

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The Economist is publishing its annual predictions for the coming year. Daniel Franklin, the magazine's executive editor, talks with Steve Inskeep about the "The World in 2009" edition.


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...

INSKEEP: Touche.

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.

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