Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Count on Me

It might not surprise you to know that "the" is the most commonly used word in the English language, but did you know that one of the least commonly used words is "conquistador"? Actually, it ranks at 86,800th.

The source of this information is www.wordcount.org, a website designed by Jonathan Harris. Harris compiled the 86,800 most frequently used words in one long strand. The words are presented in order of frequency, with little red numbers appearing next to each entry telling the reader its rank.

Not surprisingly, the beginning of the list is dominated by basic, utilitarian words. It starts off "the, of,and,to,a,in,that" and continues on with prepositions, articles and basic pronouns until at least number 66-"time". "people" doesn't come until number 81, and the "government" has shown up by number 140.

It's hard not to scroll through the list and wonder what our word usage says about us as a culture. The word "love" comes in at 384, well ahead of "hate" (3107) but still behind "war" (304). "Man" (142) still leads "woman" (393), but it's hard to tell if that has more to do with the battle of the sexes or the use of "man" to mean "mankind"(7981).

For all of the claims by various pundits that "fuck" is the most versatile word in the English language, it only ranks 5598th, well behind "hell" (1927) and "damn" (4225) but well ahead of that stereotypical British expletive "bugger"(9939).

Those of a less profane bent will find "God" high in the running at 376, while the "devil" is lagging behind at 4802. "Angel", at 5283, shows we've still got enough optimism to keep away the "demon" (15586).

Even though I came across Wordcount fairly recently, it has been up and running for quite a while, and various neologisms aren't anywhere to be found. This isn't really a weakness, I think there's a lot to be learned by what is there.

On the other hand, I did get a "not found" message when I typed in, of all things, the word "blog"

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