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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Do Authors Mirror -- Or Create – Our Language?


According to a study of how words are commonly used, “the” is the most-used word.  No surprise there.  But who would have thought that in our selfie culture “you” (9th) would come before “me” (122nd) or “I” (18th)?  Why would “he” (11th) come so far ahead of “she” (50th)?

“Word” ranked 45th, “book” 269th and language 499th.  Of the top 500 words I only found one compound word – behind. Short words dominate the list.  Only two four-letter words filled the first 22 spots, a five-letter word was absent the first 33 spots, and a six-letter word didn’t appear until spot number 86.

This list of words didn’t include words we’d normally see, such as terms that one would find in everyday conversation – Twitter, Internet, Republican.  The list lacked names, brands and places.  It seemed to be absent anything digital.  The source of the list is www.world-english.org.  It says it created its list using the following criteria: “Based on the combined results of British, English, and Australian English surveys of contemporary sources in English newspapers, magazines, books, TV, radio and real life conversations – the language as it is written and spoken today.”

Some words that didn’t make the list surprised me, such as “faith”.

In some cases words that go together, such as “open” and “close,” were not together.  “Open” made the list, but not close.  Some pairs were far apart.  “Boy” ranked 146 in usage but “girl” was 303.  “Hot” was 30 but “cold” was 398.  However, only six spots separated “mother” and “father.”

Just how many words are in the English language?  The number varies wildly, depending on the source.  Global Language Monitor says we passed the one-millionth word in 2009 and that as of January 1, 2014, 1,025,109 words exist in our language.  This claim is based on a study done by Google and Harvard.

At this rate, 14.7 new words are coming into use every single day – or some 5,300 per year.  Google’s number of words is based on scanning 15,000,000 English language books.

Words are made up every day, from rappers to tech companies.  New industries and sports spawn a new language.  Mix in an infusion of immigrants and tourists and suddenly our words are altered by their usage and cultural spin.  This is nothing new.  Shakespeare is credited with creating 1,700 words, like advertising, bedroom, and addiction, according to Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language by Dr. Ernest Klein.

According to a hypertextbook.com 2001 entry, 750 million people use the English language but only about 350 million people use it as their mother tongue.  It said an “average educated person knows about 20,000 words and uses about 2,000 words in a week.”

Our language is evolving and writers influence the words we speak – not merely reflect the words that others use.  Authors shape our world, not only with their ideas and information, but by the very words they select for usage.  How many words will you use in your next book?  Which ones won’t make the cut?

The fate of our language is in your hands.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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