I recently discovered the Oxford Dictionary blog which features interesting posts such as “London Underground: the origins of some unusual names”. It also features a Q&A section to some really interesting questions about the English language which I think are worth mentioning.
Starting off with a surprisingly complex question:
1) Any idea on how many words are part of the English vocabulary? It seems like a simple question because surely we can achieve an answer by just counting the number of words in any dictionary, right? Well, not quite. Even though the second edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains 171,476 full words, it is impossible to claim that there are a finite amount of words in a language. If a noun can also be used as a verb or an adjective, does that count as one or three entries? Furthermore, a lot of words used in science and medicine come from Latin and a lot of words used in cooking come from French, do these deserve to be counted as well? All this said, the post claims that there are approximately a quarter of a million distinct words (not including inflections, regionalisms or technical words) in the English language.
2) Have you ever wondered what comes after “once, twice, thrice”? The answer is nothing because these are the only three words of this type! However, the “primary, secondary, tertiary” series does continue onto “quaternary, quinary, senary, septenary, octonary, nonary, and denary”.
3) I’m sure you’ve at some point wondered what the collective nouns for these words are:
A- prisoners: a pity of prisoners
B- apes: a shrewdness of apes
C- army: an army of caterpillars
D-murder: a murder of crows
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