Why, Bless Your Myocardium!
If you’re in the mood to do some head-scratching, try to find out how many words there are in the English language. I had been wondering how many words we have and while, I didn’t expect to find a truly definitive answer (meaning, a specific number as opposed to a range), neither did I expect to find the vitriol people made in the comments sections of the Websites I looked at to find the information. As I’d mentioned in a previous column, language evolves. We create words and if their usage stands the test of time, we consider them “official.”
The Oxford Dictionary claims there are 176,476 words (including those that are obsolete). Webster’s Third New International Dictionary lists 476,000—that more than two and-a-half times more words. But wait, Wiktionary, an online source, displays over 1.1 million definitions! (As difficult as it will be for you to accept this, I have not verified any of these by counting their lists of words. I know; you’re shocked).
Whether you accept the Oxford Dictionary’s claim, Wiktionary’s much larger claim, or any other source, the Websites I went to generally agreed that the average American knows approximately 40,000 words–passive vocabulary, but uses about half that number–active vocabulary. (There’s a fun online test one can take which claims it can quantify by percentage how many passive vocabulary words you know. Contact me privately if you wish to take the test. My score was 77% and the fun part for me was seeing the made-up words I claimed were real.)
One thing I enjoy is learning the technically correct words for everyday things we use and see. If you memorize a few of these you can have fun exchanges with people. For example, the next time you purchase a hot beverage ask the counter person for a zarf, as I did a few months ago at my preferred Dunkin’.
“What’s a zarf?” I was asked by the woman who most often serves me.
“It’s the paper sleeve that fits on the cup so I can hold it without feeling the heat from my coffee.”
She smiled and commented that everyone just called it a sleeve. I smiled back and said I often did, but liked seeing her smile. When I turned to leave, the two people behind me were also smiling and one asked if zarf was a real word. I said it was and the other person said that you learn something new every day. (Full disclosure, some people will ignore you, roll their eyes, or if you do this a lot they will even get the villagers together with torches to run you out of town.)
And so, in the hope of generating a smile or two and perhaps offering some new entries to your vocabulary, with the additional benefit of your being able to drive some people absolutely batty, here goes:
When asked if there have been any changes in your health, claim that since the novel coronavirus appeared you suffer from kummerspeck (emotional eating).
Whenever things are back to the way they were and you find yourself at a wedding reception, at the bride and groom’s first dance say to the person next to you, “I just love the sound of her scroop.” (Scroop is the swooshing sound made by the bride’s gown.)
The next time someone is showing off a new haircut/hairstyle, ask them to turn around and compliment the work done on their niddick (nape of the neck).
If someone asks what type of pizza you prefer, tell them you really like a crisp cornicione (the edge of the crust).
Instead of saying the ever-popular hashtag, use the word octothorpe.
Use virgule or solidus in place of saying slash.
If there’s far too much of a head on your beer, tell the bartender you’d prefer a glass with much less barm.
Should you be outside with someone when it begins to rain and they complain about the weather, just say to them, “But don’t you just love the petrichor?” (Petrichor is the pleasant smell of rain, particularly after a dry spell.)
Finally, be grateful you’re reading this on a Website. My griffonage is horrible.
This week’s Street Sign Smile: