For the Love of Words

I’m a writer, so it makes sense I’m also a word lover. I have an interesting group of friends that also appreciates words. Some of them are writers, and most read voraciously. We regularly have conversations with words that don’t come up often otherwise.

So sometimes when I encounter a student that doesn’t know a certain word that seems like it should be beneath his level, I wonder. How many of these words did the people in my peer group pick up from their reading habits? There are many thousands of words in the English language. I’ll admit I don’t know a fair chunk of them. Only one visit to Save The Words¬†convinced me that there are many words in danger of extinction because the majority of the populace doesn’t use them.

How does someone figure out what level a word is? Sure, a word like blue is in the vocabulary of most with a high degree of understanding, with the exception of the percentage of population who are blind or color-blind in the blue spectrum.

An interesting thing at Word Count is that it counts instances used in our language. While it may not be a good measure of the difficulty of a word, since some large words are used a lot in business settings or to make fun of manager-speak – it can give insight into the exposure a person might have to a certain word.

A somewhat random sampling of their ranking includes:
the – 1
and – 3
blue – 973
navy- 4252
cerulean – 69082 (For those who don’t know, it’s a shade of blue.)
conquistador – 86800 (And the last word listed at the moment.)

It kept me busy yesterday finding the approximate relation of all the rainbow colors. It also helped me understand why some people might have a common vocabulary in the beginning stages, but learn words sporadically as the rank increases.

What direction would you wander in to find the relative difficulty of a word? How do you choose which words to use for whatever level of reader you want to target in your writing? How often do you use some strange word because it’s exactly the one you need even if it requires someone to check in a dictionary? The word lover in me is poised on the edge of my chair to know.

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