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Use your words

Over at Johnson, R.L.G. is promoting a little research project at that invites you to take a brief online test from which is generated an estimate of your vocabulary—that is, the words you can say with some confidence you know the meaning of. You can take the test for your own satisfaction, and contribute to the research as well.

The test is here.

R.L.G. cautions that bragging about the results is naff,* so I shall remain mute.


*If you think you need to bone up before taking the test, naff is British slang for “tasteless.”


Posted by John McIntyre at 4:16 PM | | Comments (8)


I wonder about the difference between "I know that word" and "I can actually come up with a dictionary-approved definition for that word." For example, do people really know what "noisome" or "deracinate" mean, or do they just think they know?

Anyway, interesting test.

The analysis of the statistical data following the test is really interesting. Nice link, Mr. McIntyre.


44,300 words

Unfortunately, I couldn't recollect the definitions for three words I had encountered before and knew once-upon-a-time. Another word I was fortunate enough to have first encountered this year. (I'm 25, btw.)

Now why won't John tell us his score!? Lame! ;)

Yes, that was interesting to think about while taking the test, Mike. I tried to come up with a synonym or quick definition for each word, and there were some, including deracinate, that I would not be tripped up by if I met them in context, but I found I couldn't quite define.

AJ, regarding "why won't John tell us his score!? Lame!", it's because posting and comparing scores does not further the discussion of the project itself. That is where the real interesting part of this particular post can be found.

This also brings me to respond to your "44,300 words" with a ho-hum.


I don't regard posts that further the discussion of the project itself to be the only worthwhile thing to talk about--even if it's "the real interesting part of the post." If you wish to be so parochial, good for you. I just wish you would follow your own advice and only post things that further the narrow aims of the study.

Your "ho-hum" reaction is obviously merely a bad attitude because you feel my desire for John to post his score and the revelation of my own to be in poor taste. In other words, it is not a dispassionate appraisal of the relative rarity or meaningfulness of the score.

I happen to like John's writing an awful lot and find him to be an intelligent commentator. It's perfectly legitimate for me to want know what he scored. (Just as it is for him to remain silent. I was merely making a good natured nudge in hopes he would divulge.)

I'd also like to know what Dr. Johnson, Jane Austen, or John Von Neumann would score. In fact, I'd like to know the fund of knowledge and richness of vocabulary that is at the disposal of all the many authors I enjoy reading.The fact that it doesn't further the broader project is marvelously irrelevant. And after all, they didn't have to provide scores at all, did they? No, they could have just taken the data with out giving you any feedback. Now where's the fun in that?

Your "ho-hum" attitude is further belied by the weight of psychometric research over the past, say, 100 years and the manifest intentions of the study. To wit, size of vocabulary has a robust and significant correlation with intelligence--generally the highest among any given battery on the WAIS. And notice how nicely the test tracks with verbal SAT performance. It's no accident they requested such data, Timmy. If vocab size wasn't important, we wouldn't be wasting our time studying it.

So, I confess, I don't know whether to chalk up your pissy attitude to distaste for what you perceive as vain bragging, or, less charitably, to sour grapes that you didn't score nearly as well.

But, in any event--ho-hum: I don't particularly care.

House rules: You can say pretty much what you like about me, as A Lyttle has demonstrated, but commenters are expected to disagree civilly with each other.

Don't make me come over here.

Mr. McIntyre, I thank you kindly for the reminder.

AJ, I disagree with you most civilly.


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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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