Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Billion Word March

The English language officially has hit one billion words so you'd think I could muster a few of them to post to this blog in the past week. But no.

Nonetheless, the notion of one billion words is daunting. For somebody who loves words, my mind is appropriately boggled. William Shakespeare had less than 100,000 words from which to choose in his day, and they sufficed to summarize mankind quite nicely, thank you. Now, with one BILLION words, we seem to say less. I'm astonished ... awed ... stupefied ... astounded ... flabbergasted ... dumb-founded ... taken aback ... bewildered ... and 69 other synonyms for intensely surprised.

Here are a few other word facts from the Global Language Monitor:

o The average American's vocabulary is only about 14,000 words.
o There are fewer than 100,000 words in the French language;
o Fewer than 20,000 different words in the Bible, (actually, 12,143 in the English, 783,137 total in the King James Version, 8,674 in the Hebrew Old Testament, and 5,624 in the Greek New Testament);
o And 24,000 differing words to be found in the complete works of Shakespeare, about 1,700 of which he invented.

Have you used your 14,000 words today?


Bookworm said...

The average American uses only 14,000 words? When I was growing up (and it really was that long ago, people who cared about language decried the fact that Americans had only 30,000 words to use, and noted that, after WWII, people could call on 40,000-45,000 to fill out their conversation. That decline is soooo sad. It's amazing how, the more words there are to turn to, the fewer there are that people actually know and use.

Ron Franscell said...

First, you're not THAT old (in spirit, if nothing else) or you wouldn't embrace blogging!

Second, maybe I'm just a cynic, but even as our communal vocabulary grows, it seems like fewer and fewer people can truly use the words if they aren't slang-y or abbreviated. God, I sound like my high school English teacher.

SingingSkies said...

OK - I'm confused. If there are fewer than 20,000 different words in the Bible, how is it that there are over 700,000 in the KJV? Expanding Hebrew and Greek into English sometimes adds a few words, but THAT many?! I know that wasn't your statistic, Ron, but I'm bumfuzzled.

To turn to Bookworm's statistics, could it be that word knowledge is inversely proportional to the word pool available? If so, then would the number of words known by Americans increase if we just slashed out a few of those billion words? *chuckle* Probably not! Besides, there are too many good words that might get slashed in the process!