05 June 2007

So many words


The Big Brother is on holidays, after a heroic attempt to cram a year’s studying into 3 days before his summer exams. He is now free from his mother’s nagging for a blissful 3 months and can dedicate himself to further improving his vocabulary.

A study in Britain last year, reported by the BBC, suggested that the average teenager has a vocabulary of over 12,600 words, just about half of an adult’s vocabulary. The most used words are, not surprisingly, yeah, but, no, and like. I would suspect fuck comes rather high on the list as well, but no mention of it in the article.

Very worried about the Big Brother's linguistic ability, I dug a little deeper. It seems that the average English speaker does in fact possess around 20,000 words. Out of 616,500!!! (French, it seems, only proposes a meager 100,000 words...) Michael Spears, a lecturer in journalism, has created a little test . I failed on a number of those... eleemosynary??? I guessed refulgent, but I was really good on the latin ones. Good old French secondary school, latin for 5 years, and I can still say arma virumque cano. Not that I would. David Crystal is more optimistic, according to this article, and suggests 60,000 words per graduate.

The Big Brother is getting there. We had a very interesting conversation around the dinner table.

"What does apathy mean?"

Great temptation there to give an example very close to home. I resisted, and explained.

"- And what does monogamy mean?"
- Monogamy???? What were you reading?
- It's in a song, an Eminem song
- Well, monogamy means marriage to one person only.
- Doesn't make much sense.
- That's a matter of opinion.
- No, it doesn't make sense in the song!"

The Big Sister rolls her eyes:

- Do you mean monotony?
- What does monotony mean?
- Dull
- Yeah, that makes sense.

Do not diss Eminem. The Big Brother is now three words closer to 60,000. It's going to be a long road. Get writing, Eminem! I would suggest eleemosynary and refulgent. Good rapping sound to those.



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