Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


I feel like I know what terpsichorean means, but I don't actually remember.
July 20, 2011 7:34 AM   Subscribe

How many words do you know?
posted by jacquilynne (257 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Never has so little been known by so many about so much.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:39 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


"How many words does you know?"
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:39 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"How many little checkboxes can you click before getting annoyed?" is more like it.
posted by m0nm0n at 7:40 AM on July 20, 2011 [53 favorites]


Can I click the words I don't know and save some time?
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:40 AM on July 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


bugbear

I know what it means, but I doubt it's the definition they want.
posted by griphus at 7:41 AM on July 20, 2011 [22 favorites]


42,800.

Interesting site. They also explain where the data comes from. Basically a statistical argument from a huge frequency table.
posted by atrazine at 7:42 AM on July 20, 2011


What about words you can use in a sentence but can't define? They weren't clear on that front.
posted by Carillon at 7:42 AM on July 20, 2011


23,100

: (
posted by Godwin Interjection at 7:43 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]




"How many little checkboxes can you click before getting annoyed?" is more like it.


It doesn't test vocabulary, it tests compulsion.
posted by mooselini at 7:44 AM on July 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Also: 32,400.

I deliberately skipped the ones I've heard of and could probably derive from context but had no idea what they meant on their own.
posted by griphus at 7:44 AM on July 20, 2011 [18 favorites]


That was pretty neat; I seem to have a pretty good vocabulary.
posted by TedW at 7:44 AM on July 20, 2011


Oh gosh, just a whole lot.
posted by penduluum at 7:44 AM on July 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


47,100.

Big vocabulary = Big dic...tionary.
posted by Floydd at 7:45 AM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


3.49 x 10^4
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 7:45 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If made-up words count, then I probably know about a bajillion.
posted by rocket88 at 7:45 AM on July 20, 2011 [28 favorites]


griphus, same here!

I'm somewhat disappointed to see that they don't have good stats for anything above the age of 32. (I have now contributed to that statistical corpus: 35,100, and I skipped some that I think I could probably get away with using in a sentence but wasn't entirely sure about.)
posted by epersonae at 7:46 AM on July 20, 2011


Apparently, I know 33,600 words well enough to parsamulate.

Okay, 33,599.
posted by Curious Artificer at 7:46 AM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah. It would appear I have a good (but not great) dictionary. But hey... Let the dic measuring begin.
posted by seanyboy at 7:46 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If made-up words count, then I probably know about a bajillion.

37,000, for whatever that's worth. Too much Patrick O'Brian and DFW. And 'bajillion' is a perfectly cromulent word.
posted by jquinby at 7:46 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is that the OED or are you just happy to see me?
posted by griphus at 7:48 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lots
posted by briank at 7:48 AM on July 20, 2011


What about words you can use in a sentence but can't define? They weren't clear on that front.

My feeling is that you know a word's definition if and only if you can use it in a sentence. It can be hard to just "define" words on the spot, even if you clearly know what they mean and use them (correctly) all the time.

I got 27,700 (slightly above the median). I feel like that's low, but hey; at least I know what "sparge" means.
posted by King Bee at 7:48 AM on July 20, 2011


42,800.

Atrazine, could you send me a list of the 400 words you know that I don't? I would like to expand my vocabulary by about 1%.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:49 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think my problem is that I can't spell. I know a word that I think is that word!
posted by Phredward at 7:49 AM on July 20, 2011


Yeah, what's up approximately 98% percentile.
posted by penduluum at 7:49 AM on July 20, 2011


King Bee: sparge is one of the places I drew a blank.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:49 AM on July 20, 2011


I don't need to know a bunch of words, I just want to be able to use the impotent ones right.
posted by sexymofo at 7:50 AM on July 20, 2011 [18 favorites]


Imbroglio...yeah, didn't she have that hit song in the 90s?

I usually don't get all up in arms about having prepositions at the end of sentences, but I feel like for a questionnaire that assesses your verbal knowledge, "what year were you born in" should be aggressively edited. Fingernails on a chalkboard. Really, how hard is it to have, "in what year were you born?"

32,600; I'm not sure how I feel about that.
posted by phunniemee at 7:50 AM on July 20, 2011


31,200

I did the same thing as griphus. I thought I'd have to define them at the end so I skipped ones that I couldn't think of the real dictionary definition.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:50 AM on July 20, 2011


39,300 but I was strict about skipping any I wasn't sure about...
posted by unSane at 7:51 AM on July 20, 2011


"in what year were you born?"

WITH WHOM I LIVE
posted by atrazine at 7:52 AM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


But do you know what taters means?
posted by desjardins at 7:53 AM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


pr0n
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:53 AM on July 20, 2011


Too long/didn't click.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:54 AM on July 20, 2011


38,800 and I definitely thought that some of those words were made up.
posted by empath at 7:54 AM on July 20, 2011


40,300 in my wordhoard, though I think maybe I wasn't very conservative in my answers. Either way, shaving 1,00 here or there at the margins doesn't mean anything. I rarely read fiction anymore, and part of the reason for that is self-important authors assaulting me with stupid words like horripilation and embonpoint. I want a story, not a damn language lesson.
posted by Jehan at 7:55 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


21,300... way behind the average for my age. -cries-
posted by biochemist at 7:55 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


this is like the Metafilter equivalent of posting a link to porn.
posted by chalkbored at 7:56 AM on July 20, 2011 [14 favorites]


20
posted by swift at 7:56 AM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


39,200.

I guess that means I could write a 12,000 word essay that most people wouldn't understand. Not a very handy skill, really.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:57 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


But do you know what taters means?

Hardcore or softcore?
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:58 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


FWIW, I scored 35,500, and then went and looked up terpsichorean and discovered that I did not have any idea what it meant.

I felt like maybe it had to do with turtles or reptiles or something, and it turns out it has to do with dancing.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:58 AM on July 20, 2011


I'm skeptical. My score puts me at the 85th percentile (35,000) and that seems low. I guess that a lot of people clicked words they didn't realy know or thought they knew but didn't.

*sob*
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 7:58 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


KNOW ALL THE WORDS
posted by everichon at 7:58 AM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


40,300 in my wordhoard, though I think maybe I wasn't very conservative in my answers. Either way, shaving 1,00 here or there at the margins doesn't mean anything. I rarely read fiction anymore, and part of the reason for that is self-important authors assaulting me with stupid words like horripilation and embonpoint. I want a story, not a damn language lesson.

That is half the joy of reading, in my view. At what age did you decide you knew enough already and it was time to stop learning?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:01 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm dumber than I thought I was...
posted by what's her name at 8:03 AM on July 20, 2011


I'm not calling anyone a cheater, but it sounds from their description as if the test has a maximum score of 45,000.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:04 AM on July 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


That is half the joy of reading, in my view. At what age did you decide you knew enough already and it was time to stop learning?

You mean, when did I last beat my wife?

I still read, I just don't read fiction.
posted by Jehan at 8:05 AM on July 20, 2011


32,900 with me not checking the ones I really felt like I should have known but just couldn't quite remember the definition for.

Now I'm going to spend the day mourning reveling in the fact that I'm merely average.

It seems better to be happy that I know what I do, rather than be sad about what I don't.
posted by quin at 8:06 AM on July 20, 2011


27,900. Sigh. I should have finished Infinite Jest before taking this.
posted by natasha_k at 8:08 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you take it more than once, you might get a latin-based word you can suss out the meaning of and raise your score. Yay, oenomancy!
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:09 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I got 9,080 and suspected that it was like IQ tests where everyone inflates their answers over the internet.

Then I realized I read the directions backwards and only checked words I did not know.

Apparently my vocabulary is better than my reading comprehension.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 8:09 AM on July 20, 2011 [21 favorites]


I'm going to go ahead and say twenty-four. Because that's the highest number.
posted by Eideteker at 8:10 AM on July 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


39,900, being pretty strict about not checking words I didn't really know. Like I'm actually pretty sure I know what "sparge" means. . . and checking the web, I see I was pretty much right. But I didn't click it, because I only knew it based on my experience with Latin, not on my experience with that exact English word.
posted by KathrynT at 8:10 AM on July 20, 2011


I thought about posting this, but then I thought I would just be annoyed by yet another mefi IQ contest.

It's not about the size of your vocabulary people, it's how you use it that counts! {/less than median score grump}
posted by Think_Long at 8:10 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


0
Wedfghh ghjjkkkk thjjkc!
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:11 AM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


You mean, when did I last beat my wife?

No, you have declared you know enough words already. I am curious as to what would cause someone to make such a decision.

And for what it's worth, I rarely read fiction these days either.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:12 AM on July 20, 2011


I think intelligence is best measured, not by whether or not you know the word "uxoricide" but whether or not you're intelligent enough not to use it in public.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:13 AM on July 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


All of them. I know all the words. Ask me about one!
posted by axiom at 8:13 AM on July 20, 2011


I'm going to go ahead and say twenty-four. Because that's the highest number.

Look: you got ten, then you got ten more, then it's like "What's this? Four more?"
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 8:14 AM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Does it count if I have discovered any of these words in Words With Friends via the brute force method?
posted by empath at 8:16 AM on July 20, 2011


I came out in the 101th percentagile!
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:18 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


From the FAQ:
Your results seem high—I'm well-educated and well-read, and I'm pretty sure my vocabulary is in a higher percentile that the results you've listed!

You're probably right. The percentiles listed so far are of the people who have taken the quiz, not of the population as a whole. And their average self-reported verbal SAT score, so far, is around 700 (out of a perfect 800 score). Compare that to the average US population score of around 500, and it's clear that our test-takers are far more literate than average.
The FAQ is great - there's a lot more information about the test design, they highlight the most rare words (and link to definitions), and no, really, don't bother, I'll go shut myself in my locker now.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:18 AM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


36,400...
posted by stenseng at 8:19 AM on July 20, 2011


31,900.

I credit my seriously vocab-mad English teacher in 7th Grade.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:19 AM on July 20, 2011


ricochet biscuit: My knowledge of the word "sparge" is one of the side-effects of brewing a ton of beer.
posted by King Bee at 8:20 AM on July 20, 2011


embonpoint is a great example. I only knew that because of a book I read about the changing American attitudes towards being fat or skinny. 19th century Americans used 'embonpoint' to describe a pleasantly plump women.

Probably 3-5 more words I only knew because Monty Python used them and so I looked them up: "Nonsense. I delight in all manifestations of the terpsichorean muse", said the customer in the cheese shop to Mr. Wensleydale, bidding the bazouki player to play on.

And in order to not get bogged down in the list, I found myself checking off a word if I could summon an image that illustrated the concept. I also assumed that I would be asked about them later, and figured I could synthesize a definition describing the image. I guess that makes me a visual thinker. Did anyone else find they were doing the same?

Before checking them off, I looked up some of the words I thought I knew but wasn't sure of. There were about four words that I though I knew but didn't.

(And I thought an 'opsimath' is someone who knew a lot about snakes. Turns out I confused 'όφις' with 'οψις')
posted by benito.strauss at 8:21 AM on July 20, 2011


No, you have declared you know enough words already. I am curious as to what would cause someone to make such a decision.

Because at the margins, new words are often show-offs or just decoration, especially in fiction. Is anything actually gained by knowing the word "embonpoint"? Maybe if you simply love knowing more words, then sure. But I hate authors wanking on a page. Just tell the bastard story already.
posted by Jehan at 8:22 AM on July 20, 2011


Though I loved uxoricide, I was sad that they didn't include my favorite word I never get to use, ochlocracy.
posted by Carillon at 8:22 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I knew majoring in English, French, and Latin would pay off someday! Today was that day.
posted by chatongriffes at 8:23 AM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


43,800. Proof that I am a pretentious wanker.
posted by elizardbits at 8:23 AM on July 20, 2011


Did anyone else get the feeling this was some kind of social experiment, and that half the words in the last column on the second page were actually made up?

I was sure the conclusion was going to be "HAH, you can't know that word because it ISN'T a word!"
posted by CharlieSue at 8:23 AM on July 20, 2011 [14 favorites]


And thus, was very careful about my clicking, so as not to get caught in their trickery. And apparently I'm median-ish at something like 29,000.
posted by CharlieSue at 8:24 AM on July 20, 2011


I saw this on languagehat's blog the other day; just waiting for him to come kick in the saloon doors of this thread, sidle up to the bar, throw back a shot of rye, turn slowly and fix the room with his thousand-yard stare and growl "All of them, kiddos."
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:26 AM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


37,700.

I don't think many of the words were made up, if any at all were. There were certainly some--mostly in those last columns--that I'm sure I've seen before but couldn't pull a definition out (opsimath is the one that really sticks in my memory).
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:26 AM on July 20, 2011


39,400. I'm surprised at how many words I did NOT know. I've been a voracious reader for over 40 years. Some of the boxes I did not check I could have taken a stab at, but some I would swear I have never seen before:
cenacle
pule
caitiff
epigone
clerisy
funambulist
deracinate

All of the above except pule and caitiff are not in spell check.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:26 AM on July 20, 2011


I think intelligence is best measured, not by whether or not you know the word "uxoricide" but whether or not you're intelligent enough not to use it in public.

Um, you better check your account name there, Bulgaroktonos.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:26 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Based on the "sparge" comments, they're testing everyone against the same sample of words? There are probably all kinds of biases in there, given that beyond the basics most vocabulary is at least somewhat domain-specific — brewers will tend to recognize "sparge" a lot more often than other people.

And I have to say I don't love the naive/Scrabble-player approach to what counts as a word here. At the higher levels of obscurity there are lots of Latinate and Greek derivatives in the lists, and some French ones, that barely seem to me to count as "English words," since mostly they're used as fairly direct equivalents to the borrowed word and addressed to people with knowledge of Latin/Greek/French.
posted by RogerB at 8:27 AM on July 20, 2011


The percentiles listed so far are of the people who have taken the quiz, not of the population as a whole. And their average self-reported verbal SAT score, so far, is around 700 (out of a perfect 800 score).

The average self-reported verbal SAT score of 700 means that the average test-taker is in the 95th percentile, so based on that, if you're above average on the vocabulary test, you're really among the top five percent of the general population.
posted by martinrebas at 8:28 AM on July 20, 2011


30,600. I'm above average for my age and in general, but for some reason I still feel like a dud.
posted by catwoman429 at 8:28 AM on July 20, 2011


To make this even somewhat accurate, it should a) include some non-words and count those against any total of actual words the user claims to know and b) take a subset of words that the user claims to know and have them identify an actual definition.
posted by snofoam at 8:29 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The word opsimath seems like it was invented to get old people to look it up, as part of some not so hilarious joke the English language is playing on us.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:31 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


LOOK AT SIGN!
posted by unsupervised at 8:31 AM on July 20, 2011


I am surprised at how many of you are sticking at embonpoint. I'm pretty familiar with it; I think it might have been used often by A. Christie to describe Poirot.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:31 AM on July 20, 2011


I am surprised at how many of you are sticking at embonpoint. I'm pretty familiar with it; I think it might have been used often by A. Christie to describe Poirot.

Words that Agatha Christie uses, that my wife picks up, but that everyone else stopped using a hundred years ago, are one of the banes of my existence.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:33 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Who necessitates a corpulent lexicon when you have Word thesaurus?
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:39 AM on July 20, 2011


Not a very parsimonious quiz.
posted by goethean at 8:40 AM on July 20, 2011


44,300

I have nothing further to contribute to this conversation.
posted by ged at 8:40 AM on July 20, 2011


Horripilant is a pretty cool word, although i know it because it's very common in spanish, when i came across the actual meaning of the word (goose bumps, i knew it just as a synonym of scary) and tried to tell my non-spanish-speaking friends about it, none of them knew what it meant :P
posted by palbo at 8:44 AM on July 20, 2011


If I'm actually 70th percentile, as this test suggests, I'll eat my glarf.
posted by etc. at 8:46 AM on July 20, 2011


40,000. Not bad for a high school drop-out.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:47 AM on July 20, 2011


40,900. Not bad, I guess.

I cursed myself for knowing but not remembering "captious", though.
posted by Decani at 8:49 AM on July 20, 2011


just two
posted by fingers_of_fire at 8:49 AM on July 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


32,700 - I really thought I'd score higher. Oh well, didn't cheat!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:51 AM on July 20, 2011


37k and some change. But I knew the hardest word on their site (uxoricide, they claim), so I think I should get extra words added to my score.
posted by jeather at 8:51 AM on July 20, 2011


Did anyone else get the feeling this was some kind of social experiment, and that half the words in the last column on the second page were actually made up?

That's actually supposed to happen. The first page is used to guess roughly where your vocabulary is on the frequency chart, then the second page has words which have frequencies centred on the point estimated by the first page.
So if it works correctly, you should know all the words in the first column of the second page, a decreasing gradient in the middle columns, and very few of the words in the last column.
posted by atrazine at 8:52 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a quiz that only Henry James would love.
posted by blucevalo at 8:54 AM on July 20, 2011


33,000, which I'm happy with, considering that English is my third language. Like benito.strauss, I knew "terpsichorean" from the Monty Python cheese shop sketch. And learning some French helped with words like "embonpoint", "legerdemain" and "bruit".
posted by martinrebas at 8:55 AM on July 20, 2011


Well, this is depressing. I've been enrolled in some school or another for going on 25+ years now. I am working on my 8th degree...a PhD...in linguistics. I'm a kickass Scrabble player.

I scored in the 40th percentile.

I thought I'd at least beat my age.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:56 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


34,100.

If you take it more than once, you might get a latin-based word you can suss out the meaning of and raise your score. Yay, oenomancy!

I was even thinking, "What's that? Wine sorcery?" Turns out I should have checked it off.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:59 AM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Though I loved uxoricide...

How did your wife feel about it?

It's apparent from the comments here that respondents are holding themselves to a lot of different standards; I wonder if they have any way to account for that in their results.

36,700
posted by steambadger at 9:01 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have never seen before:
cenacle
pule
caitiff
epigone
clerisy
funambulist
deracinate

All of the above except pule and caitiff are not in spell check.


Not in Chrome's spellchecker, apparently, but all in Google Dictionary. I also wondered if there were any fakes planted in the list.
posted by normy at 9:02 AM on July 20, 2011


I was even thinking, "What's that? Wine sorcery?" Turns out I should have checked it off.

Good thing you didn't. The word I thought I remembered as "oenomancy" (divination through the study of wine) was actually "oneiromancy" - which I later learned by reading the "hard words" page, has nothing to do with wine.
posted by Curious Artificer at 9:03 AM on July 20, 2011


Please enter your ZIP code. (This is for research purposes only. It cannot be used to personally identify you, and is not shared with any kinds of advertisers or advertising systems.)

With my birthdate and gender, yes it can, with a given probability. I'm giving fake data for this.
posted by DU at 9:03 AM on July 20, 2011


I assume people who don't know oneiromancy are not readers of fantasy, because that word shows up an awful lot.
posted by jeather at 9:05 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because at the margins, new words are often show-offs or just decoration, especially in fiction. Is anything actually gained by knowing the word "embonpoint"? Maybe if you simply love knowing more words, then sure. But I hate authors wanking on a page. Just tell the bastard story already.

What is gained with the use of any particular word is a connotative shade that wouldn't be available to you if you used a synonym. If, as a reader, it's your first encounter with the word, obviously the effect is probably going to be lost on you*, but I hope you'll give the author the benefit of the doubt for not tailoring the work to perfectly coincide with your vocabulary.** After all, the story doesn't exist without the words that describe it, so who's to say it would be the same story if the author used different words?

* That doesn't have to be a bad thing, because it's a little pleasure that'll be reserved for a subsequent re-reading.

** There are times where they don't deserve the benefit of the doubt, you're right, but I tend to think that that judgment should be put off for as long as possible.

posted by invitapriore at 9:07 AM on July 20, 2011


With my birthdate and gender, yes it can, with a given probability. I'm giving fake data for this.

I think it'd be fairer to the people running the study if you just declined to provide data instead of messing with theirs.
posted by invitapriore at 9:08 AM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Using words that everyone knows effectively is, in my opinion, a more valuable skill.
posted by Apropos of Something at 9:09 AM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


33,800...hmm, i thought i knew alot more words
posted by sexyrobot at 9:10 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


31,900. (I copied Empress Callipygos' paper, apparently. )

Pretty good for a dead philosopher.
posted by wittgenstein at 9:12 AM on July 20, 2011


34,600

I was feeling pretty dumb until I saw it was 85th percentile. Now I only feel a little dumb.
posted by lordrunningclam at 9:13 AM on July 20, 2011


I like that I knew the word "williwaw" because that is a color of sport sunglass lenses.

(I work in the optical industry, what?)
posted by jillithd at 9:15 AM on July 20, 2011


Could you folks please figure out a way to turn on each other here, get all nasty, vindictive, awful, beastly, disagreeable, fierce, filthy, foul, hellish, horrible, horrid, icky, impure, loathsome, lousy, malodorous, mephitic, murderous, nauseating, noisome, noxious, objectionable, obnoxious, obscene, odious, ornery, outrageous, polluted, repellent, repugnant, repulsive, revolting, squalid, unclean, unholy, unpleasant, vile, vulgar, yucky with each other?

Then I can feel all the more superior for having quit the damned thing half-way through the second column.
posted by philip-random at 9:16 AM on July 20, 2011


I haz 28000 wordz in mah brahne
posted by zeoslap at 9:24 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because at the margins, new words are often show-offs or just decoration, especially in fiction. Is anything actually gained by knowing the word "embonpoint"? Maybe if you simply love knowing more words, then sure. But I hate authors wanking on a page. Just tell the bastard story already.

Perhaps the words are necessary to tell the bastard story already.

One of my favourite books is Jim Paul's Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon, which is half recounting of an art project and half history of siege machinery. Paul writes elegantly, in the kind of voice you usually encounter in fiction. At one point, he is talking about Edward I's catapult Warwolf, the A-bomb of the 14th century. After the thing had been built, in languished until finally Edward finally saw a chance to use it, during a Scots rebellion in 1304, when some rebels had holed up in Stirling Castle. Edward had the massive thing disassembled and shipped north and rebuilt outside the walls of Stirling:


Gangs of men worked huge hamster wheels on either side of the tower, treadmills that raised the counterweight. When it was ready -- the heavy box raised and pinned, the crew removed to one side -- the commander would drop a raised baton, and the triggerman would pull a rope, freeing the weight. Then the trunk would lash its whip, and the sling would release its stone. After the shot, the whole cumbersome enormous mechanism would heave back and forth until its antlike crew could steady it with ropes, climb back into their treadmill wheels, roll another heavy stone into the sling's pouch, and begin the laborious business of cocking the catapult again.

But the defender of Stirling Castle didn't wait for the actual firing of the Warwolf. Just witnessing its construction, its enormous beams, the hammerblows, the winching of its parts into place -- to say nothing of the sheer tenacity of the besiegers -- they were convinced of their doom. On the day the Warwolf was completed, they capitulated. They ran up the white flag and sent an embassy through the gates. They surrendered absolutely, much to Edward's disappointment.

For the king had fallen under the spell of the great catapult, too, by that point, succumbing as well to the slow suspense of its construction. he had become enamored of the technology, and beside this grand demonstration of his power, the capture of the castle had become a technicality. This weapon had taken months to ship, weeks of effort to build. It had been expensive. The best technical minds in the kingdom had labored on its plans, with the king himself assisting in the design. After all this, Edward was not about to let a few surrendering Scots to interfere with its performance. The Warwolf, its persona enhanced by the slow crescendo of its building, would be fired regardless. So the kind ordered the surrendering Scots back into the castle, to defend themselves against his might and majesty as best they could. Nonplussed, the rebels went back inside and bolted the gate. Then the great catapult was loaded and fired.



The word 'nonplussed' in the second-to-last sentence seems perfect to me. Thesaurus.com lists about forty synonyms for nonplus, and I am at a loss to see that any of them would work half as well: "Astounded, the rebels went back inside..." or "Puzzled, the rebels went back inside..." or "Dazed, the rebels went back inside..." ? So much flavour would be lost with any of these.

Incidentally, Firefox is also giving me little red squiggles beneath 'antlike' and 'hammerblows' and 'triggerman' in the excerpt above. I don't know that these words ought to be removed to suit a junior-high reading level either.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:24 AM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


33,400

Norwegian. Not that the extrapolated number should mean much, but it's always nice to quantify; bragging rights and all that.
posted by flippant at 9:25 AM on July 20, 2011


39,500
I'm pleased that when I clicked on English as a native language, they had the option of India under countries.
posted by peacheater at 9:29 AM on July 20, 2011


Words I did not know:
uxoricide, adumbrate, disjunctive, epigone, captious, bruit, embonpoint, valetudinarian, cenacle, vibrissae, estivation, clerisy, fuliginous, williwaw, caitiff, hypnopompic, opsimath, sparge,
Words I've seen before, but could not define
sedulous, tenebrous, terpsichorean, deracinate, funambulist

That was fun; thanks for posting.
posted by theora55 at 9:30 AM on July 20, 2011


Incidentally, Firefox is also giving me little red squiggles beneath 'antlike' and 'hammerblows' and 'triggerman' in the excerpt above. I don't know that these words ought to be removed to suit a junior-high reading level either.

I suspect that Firefox thinks they should be hyphenated, e.g. 'ant-like.'
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:32 AM on July 20, 2011


The test didn't contain any of the nickel words I know, like swarf and vespertine and phoresy. Poop.

But seriously, I've bookmarked the page; I'll use the words I don't know as fodder for my research-one-word-a-day habit. (I got 32,800.)
posted by Specklet at 9:34 AM on July 20, 2011


I wasn't sure what the words dunning or kruger meant, but had seen them before, so I checked them anyways.
posted by no_moniker at 9:35 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


40,600 but I'm only commenting because I got embonpoint because I read that word for the first time LAST NIGHT while 3 a.m. nursing my newborn and reading "Age of Innocence" on the Kindle ... and used the built-in dictionary to look it up. So I was like, "WOOO! I KNOW THAT WORD!"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:37 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I took it twice, once being very generous and once very strict with myself, and got 35,000 and 30,000 respectively (and some change each time) So I'll split the difference and claim around 33,000 rounding up. Yee-haw.
posted by Nixy at 9:37 AM on July 20, 2011


What about words you can use in a sentence but can't define?

Which begs the question: What about words we can define but can't use in a sentence?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:42 AM on July 20, 2011


I usually don't get all up in arms about having prepositions at the end of sentences, but I feel like for a questionnaire that assesses your verbal knowledge, "what year were you born in" should be aggressively edited. Fingernails on a chalkboard. Really, how hard is it to have, "in what year were you born?"

Somehow, the last one hundred years seem to have persuaded a lot of people who are fussy about language that "A sentence shouldn't end with a preposition" is, without being a unbreakable law of English, still an ideal we should aspire to (yeah I went there), like waiting till everyone is served to start eating or not farting in public. When in fact it's a rule of English like "Boys shouldn't wear pink" is a law of being a boy - that is, something that isn't based on anything, needn't be bothered with, and which will still be used by people who don't realise this against people who do long after it has any right to be.

Language Log has an interesting post about John Dryden, the 17th century poet who accidentally burdened us with his philosophy of preposition placement in a piece complete with outrageous hating on the age of Shakespeare (... these absurdities, which those poets committed, may more properly be called the age's fault than theirs. For, besides the want of education and learning, (which was their particular unhappiness,) they wanted the benefit of converse [...] Their audiences knew no better; and therefore were satisfied with what they brought. Those who call theirs the Golden Age of Poetry, have only this reason for it, that they were then content with acorns, before they knew the use of bread ..."), yet devoid of any elaboration or explanation at all regarding his feeling (which is all it was) about prepositions.

In another post, Language Log also has a great quote on the matter from the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language:
There has been a long prescriptive tradition of condemning preposition stranding as grammatically incorrect. Stranded prepositions often, but by no means always, occur at the end of a sentence, and the prescriptive rule is best known in the formulation: 'It is incorrect to end a sentence with a presposition.' The rule is so familiar as to be the butt of jokes, and is widely recognised as completely at variance with actual usage. The construction ahs been used for centuries by the finest writers. Everyone who listens to Standard English hears examples of it every day.

Instead of being dismissed as unsupported foolishness, the unwarranted rule against stranding was repeated in prestigious grammars towards the end of the eighteenth century, and the from the nineteenth century on it was widely taught in schools. The result is that older people with traditional educations and outlooks still tend to believe that stranding is always some kind of mistake. It is not. All modern usage manuals, even the sternest and stuffiest, agree with descriptive and theoretical linguists on this: it would an absurdity to hold that someone who says What are you looking at? or What are you talking about? or Put this back where you got it from is not using English in a correct and normal way.
tl;dr: Prepositions at the ends of sentences are the stuff as dreams are made on, and simply nothing about which to worry.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 9:42 AM on July 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


...stuff...

The word 'nonplussed' in the second-to-last sentence seems perfect to me. Thesaurus.com lists about forty synonyms for nonplus, and I am at a loss to see that any of them would work half as well: "Astounded, the rebels went back inside..." or "Puzzled, the rebels went back inside..." or "Dazed, the rebels went back inside..." ? So much flavour would be lost with any of these.

Incidentally, Firefox is also giving me little red squiggles beneath 'antlike' and 'hammerblows' and 'triggerman' in the excerpt above. I don't know that these words ought to be removed to suit a junior-high reading level either.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:24 AM on July 20 [+] [!] ]


Um, great. That was a decent piece of writing. So what though? It bears no relation to the kind of work I'm talking about.

For the record: I think several of the synonyms could work fine. Also, "antlike" "triggerman" and "hammerblows" are all pretty easy to figure out, regardless of their red-squigglies status.
posted by Jehan at 9:44 AM on July 20, 2011


I know seven, and just used them.
posted by jph at 9:44 AM on July 20, 2011


I usually don't get all up in arms about having prepositions at the end of sentences, but I feel like for a questionnaire that assesses your verbal knowledge, "what year were you born in" should be aggressively edited. Fingernails on a chalkboard. Really, how hard is it to have, "in what year were you born?"

Don't move to Chicago. Acceptably correct regional variant. ("If you go to the mall, can I go with?")
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:45 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know fifteen English words, but one of them can only be glorked from context.
posted by martinrebas at 9:52 AM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


words I couldn't define: epigone, opsimath, williwaw, caitiff, funambulist, fuliginous, clerisy, cantle, cenacle, fuddle

41,200
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:54 AM on July 20, 2011


I would gladly define all these words tuesday, for an OED today.
posted by clavdivs at 9:55 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


40,200
I know most of my obscure vocabulary has come from reading Jane Austen, the Brontes and historical romances.
posted by anotherkate at 9:56 AM on July 20, 2011


I'm certain that I knew "cenacle" and possibly some of the others because of Free Rice.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:57 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


41,000 whatever.
posted by fake at 9:59 AM on July 20, 2011


Metafilter: I'm skeptical. My score puts me at the 85th percentile... and that seems low.
posted by modernnomad at 10:00 AM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can't say I find any results from this test to be particularly believable. There were a whole bunch of words I felt recognized and was familiar with, but on meaningful assessment (thinking up my best guess and looking them up) they fell into categories where there were many I couldn't honestly check them off -

1. I'm pretty sure I know what the word means but in fact I'm wrong: e.g. sedulous
2. I'm surprised to discover my definition is totally accurate: e.g. sobriquet
3. As I suspected, I have no idea what this familiar word means: e.g. adumbrate
4. Damn it, I know I looked this word up like less than a month ago! e.g. tatterdemalion

How I self-scored (somewhere slightly south of the 95th percentile) is more or less consistent with other testing. I was in the 99th percentile on the SAT verbal*, and I imagine the discrepancy is partly people who are pretty much fooling themselves (yeah, all you 40K+ people, I'm calling you out!) and partly something I've always suspected, which is that I have a facility for sussing out multiple choice tests (even those that adjust to punish "guessing") that makes me test smarter than I actually am. I'm smart, for sure, but I suspect "1-5 in a hundred" smart rather than "one in a thousand" smart. Sad to say.

(I told a friend this once and he said "ah, so you're a real numismatist eh?" and I said "isn't that a coin collector?" and he said "ooh, you do have a big vocabulary".)
posted by nanojath at 10:03 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now I'm going through the list of hard words and deciding which ones I like. (Spoilers for word defintions.)

Some of them are great words, some not so much. For example, uxoricide has a gruesome meaning ("The killing of a wife by her husband") but is specific and potentially useful.

Clerisy is just beautiful, and has a beautiful meaning: "Educated people considered as a group; the literati."

Williwaw is also beautiful, specific, and sounds like what it means: "A violent gust of cold wind blowing seaward from a mountainous coast."

Then there's sparge, "to spray or sprinkle" which strikes me as a particularly ugly and superflous way to say spray.

Pother is rather humerous, but basically means exactly the same thing as bother and a number of other words: "A commotion; a disturbance. 2. A state of nervous activity; a fuss."

I'm not fond of estivation either. It sounds too much like estimation or estuary, and it means "The act of spending or passing the summer. or 2. Zoology A state of dormancy or torpor during the summer" - It sort of brings to mind the image of the idle upper class summering somewhere where the climate was good for the lungs, or something.

And I've always hated pule.
posted by Nixy at 10:06 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I feel like I know what terpsichorean means, but I don't actually remember.

My school had a dance troop named something like "terpsichorean" - it's from the muse of Dance, Terpsichore - so that was the only one in that range that I got.

Also, I went to a play this weekend that taught me the meaning of sobriquet - one character was lecturing another on how it was so much more elegant than "drag name". (It was a play about being a drag queen).
posted by jb at 10:07 AM on July 20, 2011


I thought I knew what "funambulist" meant, and then, oh.
posted by Rumple at 10:07 AM on July 20, 2011


I knew "pule" and "caitiff", largely because they both turn up in Shakespeare. Verily, that's how I roll.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:07 AM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


My school had a dance troop named something like "terpsichorean" - it's from the muse of Dance, Terpsichore - so that was the only one in that range that I got.

Same here, only with the added thing that I had a huge crush on a girl in our school's Terpsachore, so that's why I knew it.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:13 AM on July 20, 2011


Anyone else nerdy enough to have jotted down all the ones you didn't know and then go hammer them into your brain for eternity? I am really looking forward to using valetudinarian at some point this week. Next week it will be hypnopompic.
posted by Polyhymnia at 10:13 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


This test is invalid. I don't see "donkey punch" or "dirty sanchez".
posted by stormpooper at 10:15 AM on July 20, 2011


39.7k.

AND I USE THEM ALL.
posted by jscalzi at 10:17 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


41,900. But I am an English professor who teaches close reading of obscure poetry and has a pretty serious OED habit and a verbal GRE of 800. Even now I am looking up "Sparge."
posted by LucretiusJones at 10:18 AM on July 20, 2011


23, 500.







Take that you fuliginous potboilers.
posted by beau jackson at 10:22 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


34,800, I too was being strict and had to uncheck a couple that I've seen but didn't know.
posted by no relation at 10:24 AM on July 20, 2011


Um, great. That was a decent piece of writing. So what though? It bears no relation to the kind of work I'm talking about.

Okay, then. Give us a word that you think should never be used in writing.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:26 AM on July 20, 2011


TEDIOUS
posted by Horselover Phattie at 10:29 AM on July 20, 2011


Can none of you identify a portabello mushroom?

35,700 -- using strict rules of I know I kind of know that word but not enough to say for sure. I know years ago I was tested at the 98th or 99th percentile, so maybe I'm slipping. Back to sporcle for me!
posted by dhartung at 10:30 AM on July 20, 2011


39.7k.

AND I USE THEM ALL.
posted by jscalzi at 1:17 PM on July 20 [+] [!]


Not fair! I'm an amateur and shouldn't have to compete against someone who's gone professional.

And you probably have access to all kinds of vocabulary-building drugs.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:31 AM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Bring me the Fork! The Fork of Horripilation!
posted by Flunkie at 10:31 AM on July 20, 2011


Nixy: And I've always hated pule
Ugh. Don't be churlish, man.
 
 
weapons-grade pandemonium: Which begs the question: What about words we can define but can't use in a sentence
It most certainly does NOT "beg the question", sir! I think you need to leave this thread before you further embarrass yourself.
 
 
Floydd: 47,100.

Big vocabulary = Big dic...tionary
yellowcandy: I'm not calling anyone a cheater, but it sounds from their description as if the test has a maximum score of 45,000
I don't know about you guys, but that right there is pretty funny...
posted by hincandenza at 10:31 AM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


31500

Keepin it real average. Go me!
posted by tempythethird at 10:34 AM on July 20, 2011


I'd like to advocate for 'estivate'. It's completely parallel to 'hibernate'. If you speak French, you might notice 'été' and 'hiver' at the front there. And if you search for the zoological exemplars, you find the Malagasy fat-tailed dwarf lemur, who has a great name.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:37 AM on July 20, 2011


37,300, and I was pretty strict. I know a lot of these words from non-fiction, actually, especially the Enlightenment political science stuff I read in college. Some of them, like funambulist, I just read but was wrong on the definition of (I thought it was a more general carnival acrobat). And I thought "pule" was a whiner, rather than a whine (which I know from Shakespearian insults).
posted by klangklangston at 10:40 AM on July 20, 2011


This is not a vocabulary test... it is a test to see how many HTML checkboxes you can tick before you give up out of tedious frustration.
posted by scelerat at 10:41 AM on July 20, 2011


30,400

I've heard of a lot of those words, but didn't check them off. I might not know what all those words mean, but I end up masturbating them into my sentences anyways.
posted by cyberscythe at 10:41 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a side note, when ILXor goes down (or used to), it gave the error message of "Poxy fule!" and one running joke during the sandbox days was that a poxy fule was met with a churlish pule.
posted by klangklangston at 10:46 AM on July 20, 2011


Anyone else nerdy enough to have jotted down all the ones you didn't know and then go hammer them into your brain for eternity?

Oh, yeah.

My day was pretty much made by the discovery of "Cenacle". What a great word.
posted by steambadger at 10:46 AM on July 20, 2011


404

Not found.


And then I reset my modem and got 32,900.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:47 AM on July 20, 2011


I only know Caitiff because of Vampire: the Masquerade. That's a little embarassing.
posted by empath at 10:49 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


37.4k. And there were words I haven't seen before but knew because I know some greek, latin, french and german roots. Is that cheating?

And I've known 'terpsichorean' since junior high because of the Monty Python cheese shop sketch.
posted by scelerat at 10:49 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was quite strict with myself--basically, if I felt any hesitation whatsoever about a word, I didn't check it--and I scored the same as klang did (37,300). Good enough for government work, as they say.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:50 AM on July 20, 2011


37,400. I am glad to know I'm not the only one who learned terpsichorean from Monty Python.
posted by scody at 10:56 AM on July 20, 2011


41,300
posted by exlotuseater at 10:57 AM on July 20, 2011


Anyone else nerdy enough to have jotted down all the ones you didn't know and then go hammer them into your brain for eternity?
Sort of:

I have a little program (Anki) that you can type factoids into, and it shows them to you flash card style; if you get a particular factoid right, it will be longer till the next time that factoid is shown than it had been since the last time it was shown. One of the sets of factoids that I use is words that I discover - if I read or hear a word I don't know, instead of just looking it up, I look it up and put it into Anki.

I was about to put the various words here that I didn't know into Anki, but then I got a feeling that that would be, in some weird sense, cheating - I didn't run into these words organically. If I were to put these words into Anki, why not just go through the whole OED in alphabetical order and put whatever I didn't know into Anki? So, I didn't do this for them.

Within minutes, though, I ran into one of the words organically, in an entirely different context. So in it went.
posted by Flunkie at 10:59 AM on July 20, 2011


Did anyone else know horripilation from Oblivion? (In the Shivering Isles expansion, there's the Fork of Horripilation. I had to go look it up afterwords.)
posted by Hactar at 11:02 AM on July 20, 2011


31,500

Pretty good, but not the very best, despite subscribing to AWAD for the last four years. That's alright with me, I don't have to be a member of the clerisy.
posted by fancyoats at 11:05 AM on July 20, 2011


Knowing the definition of 40,000 words is a party trick. Being able to arrange them in a pleasing order is the hard part..
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:14 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or is that, "..The hard part is arranging them in a pleasing order."
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:15 AM on July 20, 2011


They need to make a swear-words version of this test.
posted by heyho at 11:17 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not calling anyone a cheater, but it sounds from their description as if the test has a maximum score of 45,000.

They gave me extra credit for "embiggen" and "cromulent."
posted by Floydd at 11:20 AM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


And you probably have access to all kinds of vocabulary-building drugs.

Don't knock them until you've tried them. If it wasn't for drugs I wouldn't know all 72,643 variations, permutations and conjugations of "dude."
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:23 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apparently, I'm exactly average for my age, scoring 28,500. In terms of MeFi's verbosity level, then, I'm a dunce. No wonder I fare so poorly in Metafilter arguments.

That's actually really surprising though. I had thought I was at least slightly above average, being a college-educated professional and a supposed "genius". Maybe that doesn't count for as much as I thought it did.
posted by Xezlec at 11:44 AM on July 20, 2011


Can I click the words I don't know and save some time?\

HA! It never occurred to me that the UI design could be so awful as to want me to tick off the ones I did know, so I ticked the ones I didn't and ended up with a vocabulary of 1650 words. Let me tell you, I used the heck out of those 1650 words for my various papers in college toward an English degree.
posted by juv3nal at 12:11 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The size of one's vocabulary is, beyond a point I'm willing to bet is below the 27,000 word mark, more useful as a shibboleth than as a mechanism for transmitting ideas. The use of words at the margins of one's vocabulary necessarily decreases the proportion of people who might understand what you mean, as well as decreasing the chance that you actually know what the word in question means.

Like shibboleth, there. I think it means 'sign of membership hidden from non-members', but I'm only going to look it up after I post this - just to prove my point.
posted by Fraxas at 12:17 PM on July 20, 2011


That's actually really surprising though. I had thought I was at least slightly above average, being a college-educated professional and a supposed "genius". Maybe that doesn't count for as much as I thought it did.

Keep in mind that their percentiles are of test takers, not everybody. And the people who take tests of their vocabulary are, for the most part, going to be people who think they have awesome vocabularies. So you're right around the average amongst people who think of themselves as above average.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:18 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


At the higher levels of obscurity there are lots of Latinate and Greek derivatives in the lists, and some French ones, that barely seem to me to count as "English words," since mostly they're used as fairly direct equivalents to the borrowed word and addressed to people with knowledge of Latin/Greek/French.

What, only Anglo-Saxons need apply? After over a thousand years the Greco-Latins are still second class word originators? Hrumph says I.

There are, of course, any other number of similar sites for them as like these tests, of greater and lesser seriousness. Including this rather artful one.

And some thoughts on the issue in general

I had thought I was at least slightly above average, being a college-educated professional and a supposed "genius". Maybe that doesn't count for as much as I thought it did.

It ain't the words you know, it's the uses you put them to. Lot of BS in the blue, no doubt some of it mine.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:18 PM on July 20, 2011


I'll take "words you pretty much only see in specialist journals, 17th-19th century literature, or the GRE" for 5,000, Alex.

One of the only reasons I like reading Dickens is for the unfamiliar words. It's also why I hate the on-board Kindle dictionary with the heat of ten suns. I think I know more words than it does.
posted by smirkette at 12:20 PM on July 20, 2011


This test conforms to my theory that table-top role playing games will help you on the SAT. Oneiromancy, tenebrous, legerdemain, caitiff, regnant, myrmidon: I learned these from the World of Darkness. (I got 36,600. You guys up thread are putting me to shame.)
posted by Tesseractive at 12:23 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


After over a thousand years the Greco-Latins are still second class word originators?

This is not what I meant when I said the quiz-makers seem to have a pretty simplistic idea of what it means for something to be an English word. Polemics quite aside, it seems pretty clear that something like "oenomancy" is an "English word" only in a fairly weak sense, since it's a direct loan from a language that almost everyone using the "English word" is also going to know. (Even clearer examples: a lot of the obscure words on the quiz are borrowed straight from church Latin.) Loans like "guerrilla," that have become common parlance in everyday English with clearly differentiated meaning from the originally borrowed words, are much more clearly "English words" in a meaningful sense than are Latin-cognate obscurities like "cenacle" or "fuliginous."

Unless you want to claim that every single Latin word is an English word, there's no non-arbitrary way to differentiate the cases like this that count as words from those that don't; after all, very many Latin words have been Anglicized at least once, in the history of the language, and many others could be, to exactly the same degree of comprehensibility. This is why I called the quiz's mindset on what makes a word English Scrabble-dictionary thinking.
posted by RogerB at 12:29 PM on July 20, 2011


"Almost every word in the language has this fuzzy penumbra of inflected forms, separate senses and compounds..."

An interesting article on the difficulties of determining how many words there are in the english language or in a person's vocubulary.
posted by beau jackson at 12:36 PM on July 20, 2011


18,500 words.

Did I just lose this thread?

(In my defense, English is my second language and I only picked words where I knew the definition with certainty)
posted by ymgve at 12:51 PM on July 20, 2011


23,000. Not bad for a second language.
posted by DreamerFi at 12:56 PM on July 20, 2011


I was so eager to survey the dimensions of my vocabulary that I took the measure twice - and I'm using a laptop with no mouse attached! The results were 23 700 an 24 800, satisfactory for me considering that I have no formal English education, I just read a lot. And I don't like prose I perceive as too flowery (the example ricochet biscuit gave above is NOT too flowery).
posted by hat_eater at 1:01 PM on July 20, 2011


Like shibboleth, there. I think it means 'sign of membership hidden from non-members', but I'm only going to look it up after I post this - just to prove my point.

You say "shibboleth", I say "sibboleth". Wait, what are you doing with that sword.
posted by atrazine at 1:15 PM on July 20, 2011 [15 favorites]


I wasn't sure if I should say English was my second language or not.

It kind of was. When I first moved to the states at 5, I only spoke German. But I lost most of my German skills, and have always felt like a native English speaker. So technically, would I be considered an English as a second language learner? I've never been sure.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:18 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


So technically, would I be considered an English as a second language learner? I've never been sure.

Technically, I think so, yes. From a psychological perspective the window for learning a first language opens at a very young age, around 2 or 3 years old, I think- but then hey, I'm not a psychologist so I don't know exactly. My grandfather spoke German until he went to school and had to learn English, and it's pretty common for immigrant kids to learn English in kindergarten, which is around age 5 or 6, and I think they still consider that second language. (He also only really spoke English in later life.)
posted by Nixy at 1:27 PM on July 20, 2011


It kind of was. When I first moved to the states at 5, I only spoke German. But I lost most of my German skills, and have always felt like a native English speaker. So technically, would I be considered an English as a second language learner? I've never been sure.

I moved from Holland to New Zealand at the age of 1 and stayed for 4 years before moving back, then moved to the US 18 months later and lived in English speaking countries all my life. So even though my first words were in Dutch, I spend basically my whole critical language acquisition period in a bilingual environment. I don't know what people who study language learning would call my first language though.
posted by atrazine at 1:38 PM on July 20, 2011


If you take it more than once, you might get a latin-based word you can suss out the meaning of and raise your score. Yay, oenomancy!

Greek-based. /pendant

posted by ersatz at 1:48 PM on July 20, 2011


Pendant lol
posted by Horselover Phattie at 1:55 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I scored 23,000. I would like to think I have a pretty broad vocabulary. How is it possible that someone knows 20,000 more words than I do? I can't get my head around that. How does one go about learning 20,000 more words that NEVER come up in the course of conversation? Do I need to read more bookz?
posted by jasondigitized at 2:02 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


If it makes you feel better, jasondigitized, I took this again (and I realize now that I shouldn't have...oops!) and scored even lower. The first time I was 25,000; the second I was also at 23,000. At least we're not lonely in our lowly 25th percentile. You and me, word failures.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:08 PM on July 20, 2011


Blackadder knows best.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 2:19 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I scored 23,000. I would like to think I have a pretty broad vocabulary. How is it possible that someone knows 20,000 more words than I do? I can't get my head around that. How does one go about learning 20,000 more words that NEVER come up in the course of conversation? Do I need to read more bookz?

Learn a lot of french, latin and greek roots.

I found it interesting that they didn't ask about any technical words like 'prion', 'spinor', etc.... It seems like a lot of really dated 'literary' vocabulary, to me.
posted by empath at 2:19 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The size of one's vocabulary is, beyond a point I'm willing to bet is below the 27,000 word mark, more useful as a shibboleth than as a mechanism for transmitting ideas.

It depends on what ideas you're transmitting, and who the audience is. Specialized vocabulary between specialists is a really efficient way of communicating ideas.

This test just has a bunch of archaic words that are rarely used any more, though.
posted by empath at 2:24 PM on July 20, 2011


Pendant lol

Ha, indeed.
posted by ersatz at 2:25 PM on July 20, 2011


I found it interesting that they didn't ask about any technical words like 'prion', 'spinor', etc.... It seems like a lot of really dated 'literary' vocabulary, to me.

Most technical words are: additional meanings for existing words, acronyms, or phrases rather than words.

Also, if you're trying to use number of rare words known as a proxy for overall vocabulary then you want to base that on frequency tables based on a non-specialist corpus. This is because the assumption that the whole thing relies on is that your vocabulary knowledge is evenly spread throughout the world list, affected only by frequency. The fact that I know what a spinor is accurately predicts that I have a lot of physics related vocabulary but is a poor proxy for my general vocabulary.

Also, none of these words are dated, nor are they "literary" because these words have never been common in the past, nor are they commonly used in literary fiction. They're just very rare and always have been.
posted by atrazine at 2:29 PM on July 20, 2011


39,400. I'm surprised at how many words I did NOT know.

41,000: I missed the same ones you did not get, except cenacle
posted by francesca too at 2:30 PM on July 20, 2011


empath: the creator of the test deliberately excluded:
"Words that are specifically American or British (in meaning or spelling), or slang, or scientific/medical, or anything labeled archaic, or anything else that isn't part of broad, general English. Also, no animals or ingredients, which depend too much on where you live."
He excluded some other things too. They're on the Nitty-Gritty page.
posted by HastyDave at 2:32 PM on July 20, 2011


You don't think words like raiment are archaic?
posted by empath at 2:34 PM on July 20, 2011


> You don't think words like raiment are archaic?

"Raiment" isn't exactly in widespread modern usage, but it's not archaic either. What's the linguistic's term for the middle ground there?
posted by Horselover Phattie at 2:37 PM on July 20, 2011


Er, linguist's term. Linguistics.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 2:37 PM on July 20, 2011


You don't think words like raiment are archaic?

They're not labelled as such in the dictionary, which is what he used. Raiment isn't archaic because it's used in a book that is widely read (and in fact still in print).
I think that dictionary editors don't label words as archaic until they're completely out of use, they're pretty conservative.
posted by atrazine at 2:37 PM on July 20, 2011


You don't think words like raiment are archaic?

Of course not. Everybody Loves Raiment.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:50 PM on July 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


The OED does mark raiment as 'Now chiefly archaic and literary'. I'd like to know which dictionary he's using. I exchanged emails with him a while ago, and he said that it was a British dictionary, but not which one.
posted by HastyDave at 2:54 PM on July 20, 2011


Some people here seem a lot more interested in shooting from the hip than in actually understanding how the test works. (Naturally, this being MetaFilter.) On the choice of words, it might be helpful to have a look at the Nitty-Gritty Details page:
No cognates or false-friends with Portuguese. This probably knocks out at least half the dictionary, since Romance languages have plenty in common with English. False friends need to be avoided as well, since a Brazilian beginner will see "pretend" and assume he knows it means pretender, which actually means "intend." Interestingly, the no-Portuguese rule leaves the test with a strongly pronounced short Anglo-Saxon flavor.
So that's why "they didn't ask about any technical words"—those tend to be the same in other languages, and specifically in Portuguese.

I'm glad atrazine is in the thread, so I don't have to correct all the misunderstandings.

> Because at the margins, new words are often show-offs or just decoration, especially in fiction. Is anything actually gained by knowing the word "embonpoint"?

I find this a completely bizarre attitude, but then I would. Anyway, it takes all kinds to make a world. Enjoy your Basic English!
posted by languagehat at 3:05 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I haven't seen the nitty-gritty page yet, but a number of words that were relatively obscure I knew because they are common in medicine. Bruit in particular is a word cardiologists and vascular surgeons (among others) use frequently.
posted by TedW at 3:20 PM on July 20, 2011


50,000

I received bonus points.
posted by pecanpies at 4:04 PM on July 20, 2011


Silly question for the linguists: what makes a word a "technical word"? I only know the word bruit through my nursing education, so I'd consider it "technical". Is that not so?

On preview: Jinx, TedW!
posted by pecanpies at 4:07 PM on July 20, 2011


Metafilter: Enjoy your Basic English!
posted by exlotuseater at 4:08 PM on July 20, 2011


There are some bum words, I'm sure, to mess with our brains (and to show them whether one's been cheating, perhaps...)
posted by Namlit at 4:10 PM on July 20, 2011


So that's why "they didn't ask about any technical words"—those tend to be the same in other languages, and specifically in Portuguese.

OK, but regardless of why, it may well skew the results. My technical vocabulary is a part of my vocabulary, after all, and it might be on the order of thousands of words. I certainly know what prions and spinors are.

Because at the margins, new words are often show-offs or just decoration, especially in fiction. Is anything actually gained by knowing the word "embonpoint"?

I find this a completely bizarre attitude, but then I would.


Really?

Besides not being bizarre to me, it seems less like an attitude and more like a question. I would think you of all people might be able to compose an interesting answer, what with that dynamite vocabulary of yours. ;)

Seriously, though, I think I can see how zillions of words whose main purpose is to impress could possibly (I won't take a position yet) be more a negative than a positive thing for a culture. I suppose they do have aesthetic value, at least for a few. There are still plenty of clever turns of phrase to be had below the 30k-word mark, though.
posted by Xezlec at 4:30 PM on July 20, 2011


That's an argument against all art. Chartres Cathedral could have been a barn, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel could have been painted mauve. Saying "there are still plenty of clever turns of phrase to be had below the 30k-word mark" is like saying well we've had the Sex Pistols so no need for Bach.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 4:49 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think they should ask people who check the boxes to also check a box with the definition for the word because there are a lot of words, I am guessing, some people say they know but may not actually really know when put to the test.

I've seen other tests that basically show people actually use no more than 9,000 words. It's not often you use a word like legerdemain in a sentence. So call me skeptical of anyone who claims to achieve a score of 40,000 on this 'test'.
posted by Rashomon at 5:23 PM on July 20, 2011


As I neared the end of the list I was reminded of an old maxim: never use a $10 word where a 10-cent word will do.

It's one thing to know the meaning of large, seldom-used words and be able to use them in writing when such words are appropriate, but when writing for the average person such words will turn people off.

Why say 'caitiff' if coward is more widely known?
posted by bwg at 5:31 PM on July 20, 2011


Wasn't the claim that Shakespeare knew over 60,000 words (or is it that he would have made them if he needed them?) Either way, that is a a bit more than their topping at 45,000. What gives?
posted by meinvt at 5:39 PM on July 20, 2011


As I neared the end of the list I was reminded of an old maxim: never use a $10 word where a 10-cent word will do.

The way I learned it: Never use a big word when a diminutive word will do.
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:42 PM on July 20, 2011


As I neared the end of the list I was reminded of an old maxim: never use a $10 word where a 10-cent word will do.

It's one thing to know the meaning of large, seldom-used words and be able to use them in writing when such words are appropriate, but when writing for the average person such words will turn people off.

Why say 'caitiff' if coward is more widely known?


Why would you say "appropriate" when "proper" or "right" would have conveyed the same meaning? Why show off with "average" when more people know the word "normal?"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:44 PM on July 20, 2011


35,700. (Passable, as a second language, I guess.)
posted by progosk at 5:46 PM on July 20, 2011


Easily dozens.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:58 PM on July 20, 2011


zillions of words whose main purpose is to impress

That's the thing, though. Their main purpose is...well, here's an analogy. Have you ever seen one of those sets of elaborate, delicate, finely-graded tools for close-up work like, say, making jewelry? The kind with (for instance) twelve different sets of pliers or fifteen different screwdrivers? The tools aren't hugely different from each other at first glance, and you can get the job done with screwdriver #12 instead of #14, but #14 fits what you're working with exactly, while #12 doesn't...quite...do it.

That's what those words are.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:07 PM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


ricochet biscuit: "As I neared the end of the list I was reminded of an old maxim: never use a $10 word where a 10-cent word will do.

It's one thing to know the meaning of large, seldom-used words and be able to use them in writing when such words are appropriate, but when writing for the average person such words will turn people off.

Why say 'caitiff' if coward is more widely known?


Why would you say "appropriate" when "proper" or "right" would have conveyed the same meaning? Why show off with "average" when more people know the word "normal?"
"

There's a huge difference between 'caitiff' and 'appropriate'.
posted by bwg at 6:07 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sometimes, one needs le mot juste.
posted by exlotuseater at 6:11 PM on July 20, 2011


Don’t mean to pule, but that test made me sparge chunks. Must return to my natural opsimathic state.

The actual answer is, it depends what you mean by "word" and "know".
posted by cogneuro at 6:12 PM on July 20, 2011


'Caitiff' does not mean exactly the same as 'coward', any more than 'normal' means the same as 'average'.
posted by unSane at 6:15 PM on July 20, 2011


Also, knowing words like these is usually a consequence of having read a lot, especially non C20th literature, nothing more or less.
posted by unSane at 6:17 PM on July 20, 2011


Some people like to read about, think about, and discuss sports. Some of those who don't, apply that energy, memory, and attention to words. For instance, yesterday I used the word 'dispositive'. It seemed like the perfect word for the situation, so I took a shot. Looked it up later; turns out it had the meaning I had thought it did.

GOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!
posted by benito.strauss at 6:53 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fraxas: Because at the margins, new words are often show-offs or just decoration, especially in fiction. Is anything actually gained by knowing the word "embonpoint"?

languagehat: I find this a completely bizarre attitude, but then I would.

Xezlec: Really?

Besides not being bizarre to me, it seems less like an attitude and more like a question. I would think you of all people might be able to compose an interesting answer, what with that dynamite vocabulary of yours. ;)


A few people did. The explanation hinges on the fact that words are not like shapes that fit into holes, where a synonym has the same shape and will fit in the same hole even if it's a different color. As I see it, synonyms are more like different members of the same species. They have a hell of a lot in common, but if you replaced my dog with another one and called it good because they're both members of Canis familiaris, I would have some stern words with you.
posted by invitapriore at 6:55 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apparently, I know many words. I've noticed, however, that I don't consistently spell most of them correctly.
posted by fredludd at 7:03 PM on July 20, 2011


35.000 in English. I'm guessing about the same in Spanish.
So, 70.000.
posted by signal at 7:05 PM on July 20, 2011


There's a huge difference between 'caitiff' and 'appropriate'.

Well, one has twice as many syllables, that is true. But what I am to gather from the loyal opposition is that any old word will do. Why search for the right word and risk alienating* your audience?


*Scaring.

posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:09 PM on July 20, 2011


Nothing wrong with knowing lots of rare words, but I don't think a word really can be le mot juste unless it's generally understood by its audience. While it's not possible or even desirable to make ourselves understood to everybody all the time, part of the work of writing, or any communication, is finding a balance between expressing just what you intend and expressing something meaningful to other people. There's no skill in going around saying whatever makes sense in your own head. Anybody can do that.

It's one thing if being incomprehensible is the idea, though that also gets old very quickly. But if the point is not actually to alienate the reader, but to exploit the special nuances of meaning and shades of emotion of a perfect word in order to make a thought perfectly understood, it only undermines the goal of the work to ask people to run off and get the dictionary down in order to have some hope of appreciating it. It's just self-indulgent style, and though it works occasionally, it seems like a waste of readerly compassion to defend it.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 7:18 PM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


At least three
posted by facetious at 7:35 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


38k

But after all that, I think it should at least be able to tell my gender and country of birth.
posted by sneebler at 8:11 PM on July 20, 2011


That's the thing, though. Their main purpose is...well, here's an analogy. Have you ever seen one of those sets of elaborate, delicate, finely-graded tools for close-up work like, say, making jewelry?

A jeweler is a specialist and can obtain the full set of tools he needs easily enough. But why do the rest of us need to carry them around? Won't it start to get heavy, especially for those of us with weaker constitutions?

The explanation hinges on the fact that words are not like shapes that fit into holes, where a synonym has the same shape and will fit in the same hole even if it's a different color.

30,000 words would still include an awful darn lot of synonyms. The example given by the person I was responding to was the word "embonpoint". In what case would the word "plump" just be so inadequate that it would be a tragedy for that ten-letter refinement not to be available?
posted by Xezlec at 8:32 PM on July 20, 2011


Wow, I absolutely bombed that (18,000!). I get lost in nuances. I never was much of a reader, either, so that doesn't help anything.
posted by tatma at 8:41 PM on July 20, 2011


when my svelte self pulls a silver spoon from my portmanteau I quote Shakespeare and the spoon bends.
posted by wallstreet1929 at 9:02 PM on July 20, 2011


it's clear that our test-takers are far more literate than average

No, it's clear they're either (a) ticking words they think they know, but don't or (b) fucking liars.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:19 PM on July 20, 2011


37,100....*sigh* I feel good but like I could have done better? Same with my GRE.
posted by nile_red at 9:38 PM on July 20, 2011


29,400
posted by crossoverman at 12:26 AM on July 21, 2011


What a nice coincidence, two weeks ago I said this, completely naturally: "Well, if I had gone to funambulist school I could just walk over there on the sparge line".

I was brewing beer and the wife was washing the carpet. The only way to get to the valve on the hot liquor tank without stepping on the wet carpet was to funambulate over the sparge hose.

I got 38,000 and English is my second language.
I am going to round it up to 42,000, because I know the definition and etymology of all the hard ones I got right.

posted by Ayn Rand and God at 1:50 AM on July 21, 2011


I don't wanna perpetrate a desultory philippic, but a "turn on all the checkmarks" button would save a buttload of time.
posted by Twang at 2:06 AM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it would have been a better (though far longer) test if you had to prove you knew the definition of the harder words by using them in a sentence or something. As others here have noted, I feel like there's a lot of different standards you could hold yourself to with this test. There's a big difference between "I have seen this word before and have a vague but probably somewhat accurate understanding of its general meaning" and "I can define this word and use it properly".

And now I'm off to look up my unknowns and commit them to memory.....
posted by Go Banana at 5:04 AM on July 21, 2011


They're aware that they're testing receptive vocabulary, they comment on it on their nitty gritty page:

Well, this brings us to a final distinction: receptive vocabulary (the words we understand, but don't/can't use) versus productive vocabulary (the words we use in speaking and writing).

Our receptive vocabulary is significantly larger than our productive vocabulary. In many ways, it acts as a "multiple" of our productive vocabulary, allowing us to recognize more words based on the words we already know. However, if we simply included all words we understand, we run the risk of an English speaker who has never heard a word of Spanish before, testing that he "knows" perhaps tens of thousands of Spanish words!

We have no choice but to test receptive vocabulary, since testing productive vocabulary is much more difficult and time-consuming. But to produce truly meaningful vocabulary counts, we decided to test receptive vocabulary in a way that is much closer to productive vocabulary, by eliminating the "deducible" words as far as we can. Of course, our frequency ranks themselves include plenty of deducible words spread out throughout. So we figure that, if you know the neighboring non-deducible words, then you know the deducible ones too. But if you only know the deducible ones, then you haven't really "reached" that level of vocabulary yet, so they don't count.

posted by jacquilynne at 7:06 AM on July 21, 2011


36,100 here.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:40 AM on July 21, 2011


I got a perfect score by running to Google at each word I didn't already know, then learning it, using it in a sentence, and then checking the box next to it. That's the way to take this test, right?
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:45 AM on July 21, 2011


by eliminating the "deducible" words as far as we can. Of course, our frequency ranks themselves include plenty of deducible words spread out throughout.

A lot of the hard words are very deducible though - eg I've never heard the word 'uxoricide' used, but I know exactly what it means because I know the Latin roots.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:58 PM on July 21, 2011


Sometimes, one needs le mot juste.

More juice? I know it's free juice, but you have had quite a lot of juice.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:43 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never heard the word 'uxoricide' used, but I know exactly what it means because I know the Latin roots

I've never seen the word uxoricide either but I've come across the word uxorious a few times. I remember the first time I read that someone was uxorious I thought it was something bad, it sounded like a word you would use to describe Uriah Heep (He wrung his hands in an uxorious manner.) I suppose that being excessively devoted to one's wife could be bad, but being a wife with a loving and attentive husband it doesn't sound so horrible to me.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:12 AM on July 22, 2011


No, it's clear they're either (a) ticking words they think they know, but don't or (b) fucking liars.

I am pleased to hear this important endorsement of my views: I also believe anyone who apparently has a larger vocabulary than I do is either deceiving himself or others. Take that, people who think they know what sparge means!
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:21 AM on July 22, 2011


Sparge? Like in gas sparger (hey, just learned a word)? Distribute the asparagus evenly, I guess...

Also "tuba mirum spargens sonum" and all that. I guess it's been around.
posted by Namlit at 6:35 AM on July 22, 2011


We have no choice but to test receptive vocabulary, since testing productive vocabulary is much more difficult and time-consuming.

I wasn't an English major or anything, but I've always loved words. I have had the habit of using words that are unusual but I happen to like since I was pretty young, and I got teased a lot about it as a kid. I do wish there were a way to measure working vocabulary size and extent. I've actually used uxoricide in a conversation (don't ask), but a lot of the words in the test that I knew I've never actually used in either conversation or writing.

I will try to work sparge into the next conversation, though.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:59 AM on July 22, 2011


I've been thinking about this thing a lot these last few days. I'm also currently in a summer school program, where I'm surrounded by linguists. This is the sort of stuff we talk about and pick apart, for fun. Anyways, I was mentioning this thing, and my pitiful score, and people brought up some good points. They went a bit deep with it all, but suffice to say, if you think about an average dictionary and how many words it has in it...well, could you open up any page and know half the words in it? I don't even think I could do that with a Scrabble dictionary, truth be told, but whatevs.

I also dug around and found this study (relevant info on front page of link): "...It is more likely that the average educated native speaker has a vocabulary of around 17,000 base words..."

Even still, this was fun and I enjoyed the clicking.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:35 AM on July 22, 2011


Metafilter: even still, this was fun and I enjoyed the clicking
posted by epersonae at 12:45 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


35,900. That's better than I thought especially compared to some of you brainiacs.
posted by deborah at 9:37 PM on July 26, 2011


« Older Sweatshop is a new educational game for teenagers ...   |   Evidence Based,... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments