Interesting musings on the English language

We are quite a geeky bunch at HN, or should that be nerdy. Working with this team of insatiably curious people is one of the reasons I love my job; we find all sorts of facts interesting and enjoy sharing a new discovery. I must say that most threads pertain to language or technology of one form or another, which is helpful when you spend your days writing about IT. And of course, Google is our friend helping to not just quench a thirst for knowledge by providing answers, but creating a new line of enquiry as you stumble across something interesting while searching for something completely different.

So, in the interests of welcoming our new blog readers to the HN geek community here’s a few esoteric musings from this morning’s raid on the web.

Did you know that there are more words in the English language than any other (probably)? AskOxford explains the challenge of actually counting the number of words because it is hard to define what constitutes a word…is ‘dog’ one word or two, for example, since it can be a noun or a verb. AskOxford suggest that there are at least 250,000 distinct English words. Other web sources claim 500,000-750,000 but this might include technical words and inflections. You may also be curious to know that the average mature English speaker can call on about 50,000 words.

Our language is so rich because although it is of Dutch/German origin, it was heavily influenced by Norman French after 1066 and by Latin, as the language of the church and scholars. We greedily added all this new vocabulary as it came along. And we continue to do so at quite a pace: English is widely used internationally and this encourages new words and derivatives to move into everyday use. Some estimates talk about 20,000 neologisms every year; OED production is around 2,500. At this rate the a Blade Runner like vernacular may be closer than we think.

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