Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Word a Day Keeps the Cherry on Top

I have words hanging from my ceiling. They are note cards stapled to ribbons, each with a word on one side and a definition on the other. The thing about words is that there are as many words as there are stars. There have to be-- how else would we name them all?

The Merriam-Webster word of the day is capricious, but I already knew that one. NYTimes's word is giddy but I already knew that one too. The Wordthink word of the day is altruism. I guess I know quite a few words.'s word is procrustean. I don't know that one. It means to force conformity by violent means. Or arbitrary means. Whichever you feel like. But it's not a very cheerful word.

If I could learn one new English word a day, it would take me 626 years to learn the entire language. The OED contains approximately 228,132 words, including archaic words and derivatives. As a college graduate, statistically speaking, I should already know at least 60,000 words, which means I would only have to learn 168,132 new words. This would take about 461 years, which is much more doable. And if we subtract the derivatives, assuming that once I already know the roots, I can figure out the conjugations, I can subtract another 9,500 words = 158,632 words-- that's only 435.5 years.

In 435.5 years I will know every word currently in the English language. Maybe if I learn one word a day, I'll live that long. Maybe if I learn six new words a day, for the next sixty years, (which would allow me to accomplish this feat in my lifetime) then I wouldn't have to sleep either.

But then we add in the fact that time flows more slowly close to a planet, that new words are being added to the dictionary every week, and that traveling close to the speed of light changes our time stream... well, it brings me awfully close to insanity. I think I will go have a slice of pumpkin bread with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

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