Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lots o' Words

There have been recent reports that this year - April, to be more exact, the English language will reach a milestone of having 1 million words in its lexicon.

Really? In all these years that people have been speaking English, we haven't surpassed that milestone yet?

There are all sorts of statistics - and frankly, I'm feeling a little lazy today and don't want to be bothered looking them all up - that even though we have all these words at our disposal, on any given day, the "average" English speaker uses only a tiny fraction. I had heard somewhere a few years ago, too, that the "average" English speaker communicates on a 5th-grade level, meaning that the more advanced words don't come up in conversation. I would like to see some more data on that.

When I was in college, I took a linguistics course, and remember the professor saying that we invent new words every day, and others that have been in use fade away with time if they become outdated/antiquated. I mean, in today's world, we generally don't use the same language or phrasing that Shakespeare used. Which had me thinking about Urban Dictionary, which brings us all things slang in the English language. Some of the words are just plain funny, and I'm sure the site is really no more than a modified "wikipedia" of language (yeah, you know what I mean).

So, do these slang words count among the verified million? When do we allow a word to become accepted as part of our lexicon and dictionary? Does the million-word-count allow for attrition? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on our approaching one million words. Have any words to add?

2 comments:

Ran said...

I bet a lot of them are slang words ... having said that, I wonder if there's any correlation between the number of words in the English language and illiteracy rates in the US.

(Just jumping around and found your blog. Great stuff here!)

Alexander Variety said...

It's easy to add to the urban dictionary. just coin a new word. The possibilities are endless.

It's too bad that the urban dictionary has become a place for degenerate slang instead of a haven for inspired creativity.