English Vocabulary Size.

This is just another of those dumb internet quizzes, and I think I’ve posted a similar one before, but it’s kind of fun for those who like wielding words, so with the caveat that it’s not actually going to tell you how large your vocabulary is, this is the kind of thing you might enjoy if you enjoy this kind of thing: Vocabulary Size Test. (For what it’s worth, it told me “Your English Vocabulary Size is: 30325.”) I should warn you that it switches between asking for synonyms and antonyms (very loosely defined — don’t get hung up on whether something is actually a synonym), and it’s easy if you’re not paying attention to click on one when it’s asking for the other, which I think happened to me once (I could have had a Vocabulary Size of 30326!).

Comments

  1. well how about that — my vocabulary is 30325 too!

    I wonder if we both know all the exact same words, or if there are some you know and I don’t and vice versa…

  2. My vocabulary size is 29100. But I am still a Shakespeare. I can create new words (true) that will expand the English dictionary (what is antonym of true?). Moreover, because my vocabulary size is less than that of Hat and David L., I can use the old words in new and unexpected ways. But they will stay out of the dictionary as well.

  3. Eskandar says:

    Anyone reasonably educated in English will get within a statistically insignificant deviation of 30,000. Not terribly interesting…

  4. Not terribly interesting…

    Right. But (mild) fun. If, of course, you find that sort of thing fun.

  5. 30500. “You are Shakespeare!”
    Wasn’t some similar quiz reported here a few years back? (As Shakespeare would say.)

  6. OK, I finally bothered to google it, and here‘s the previous quiz (results).

  7. My wife took this yesterday. Her score was just about thirty thousand as well. What I noticed was that one of the words it had as a possible answer was “fugnacious,” which I don’t think I had ever encountered before. According to Urban Dictionary, it means rude and aggressively impolite, to a beyond pugnacious degree.

  8. January First-of-May says:

    I got 22800, which is strange because I’m pretty sure I got only a few words wrong.

    This is apparently at the level of professional white collars in the US, and in top 5.33%.

    The quiz is weird – a few times there were three words which I knew were unrelated and one that was completely unfamiliar; a few more times all or most were unfamiliar (including the word being asked about) but there was only one in the right part of speech.

    Also, I’m pretty sure I recognized “jejune” from another similar quiz I tried a few years ago (can’t recall if it was before or after 2011).

    EDIT: I got 22100 in the older quiz, which is surprisingly similar.

  9. 30,150. I’d like to see which ones I ‘got wrong.’ The only word I didn’t feel sure of was avulse (all the readers are saying, Psh, you didn’t know avulse, you illiterate, you!)
    Outside of very specialized literature (or spelling bees), it’s rare that I’m pulled up short by a word. I remember clearly the time that my adversary in a lawsuit filed a brief asserting that my argument was thixotropic. I had no idea what it meant, but once I looked it up I had to admit it that it was a perfectly appropriate metaphor in context.

  10. Eli Nelson says:

    30150—time to start inventing new words! It would be nice if they showed you which answers you got wrong. I also was tripped up by “avulse”—I’ve never head the word, and the only similar root I could think of was “convulse,” which seems rather violent, so I guessed “suture” as the antonym. This would seem to be right. I thought I recognized all the other words, though.

  11. I wonder if there’s any research into why the results of these self-administered tests seem to always cluster around the top end.

    Many years ago, when the psychologist Hans Eysenck was popular, I and four university friends self-administered the IQ test in one of Eysenck’s books on intelligence. We were gratified to have it confirmed that all five of us had IQs of either 150 or 155. (But alas, I was one of the dummies, and wasn’t allowed to forget it.) It occurred to me even then that, of the two possible explanations – either I moved in a circle of geniuses, or the test was a load of rubbish – one was more likely than the other.

  12. David Marjanović says:

    I wonder if there’s any research into why the results of these self-administered tests seem to always cluster around the top end.

    They’re meant to make you feel good so you’ll click on all the ads around the test?

    (The greatest invention since the WWW is the adblocker.)

  13. Maybe 30150 is the dead maximum. The test might forgive you 1 mistake, maybe 2. But hey, you are already in the 0.1%.

  14. Nope, 30500. I am Shakespeare.

  15. January First-of-May says:

    Many years ago, when the psychologist Hans Eysenck was popular, I and four university friends self-administered the IQ test in one of Eysenck’s books on intelligence. We were gratified to have it confirmed that all five of us had IQs of either 150 or 155.

    When I took one of those tests about a dozen years ago, i ended up with 175 or 180 (can’t recall now). I immediately thought that it must have been way too high, and my suspicions were confirmed when a friend of mine got an even higher number (185, I think) and there was no way she was that clever.
    (My actual IQ is probably somewhere around the Mensa boundary, or perhaps a bit higher; I was, after all, a Moscow Mathematical Olympiad winner. Then again, I suspect that most of the Language Hat commentors have IQs in the top 5% of humanity.)

    As far as vocabulary estimates go, perhaps the big problem with estimates based on dictionaries is that they ignore all the perfectly cromulent words such as “pentanummium”, “guitalele”, or “octarine” (or “cromulent”, for that matter) that are – for whatever reason, usually for being too specialized and/or too recent – not in the relevant dictionary. A typical person’s vocabulary would probably include quite a few of such specialized terms for whatever topics they’re interested in (though it’s hard to say whether there will be enough of them to actually significantly change the total number).
    It’s also unclear whether proper names – geographical terms especially – count as part of the vocabulary.

    As for the quiz presented in this post, it muddles things further by specializing on words that have recognizable synonyms and/or antonyms – which leaves a good part of the nouns (and many of the more specialized adjectives and verbs) away.

  16. fugnacious

    It’s in fact fugacious ‘fleeting’. I too am Shakespeare (30500), but my main conclusion is that a test-maker who thinks catalyst has a technical antonym knows less about English vocabulary than I do. I finally picked the least bad of two wrong answers (the others weren’t even nouns). I suppose there could be a word for a substance that slows down a chemical reaction (or metaphorical equivalent), something that provides negative reactivity. But I don’t suppose we go around looking for such things.

  17. “…a test-maker who thinks catalyst has a technical antonym knows less about English vocabulary than I do.”

    It’s called “inhibitor” in chemistry.

  18. marie-lucie says:

    I thought I might as well join the crowd and try the quiz. I was surprised how little time it took. But some of the “synonyms” and “antonyms” are so by stretching the point somewhat, as with Alexei’s comment that just appeared above this window.

    Result: I am in good company : Y and John Cowan!

  19. I too got 30500, though there were three or four where I didn’t really know the answer and simply made my best guess. (“Avulse” was the one I was cluelessest about, but it seemed like it might share some sound symbolism with “avoid”, “avert”, “averse” and/or “repulse”.)

  20. David Marjanović says:

    I am Shakespeare.

    I am Spartacus !!

    I haven’t taken the test, but I knew avulse from that book chapter about the Tyrannosaurus arm with a tendon avulsion. :-S That must have hurt.

    The IQ has the problem that it only measures the ability to solve the IQ test – and that can be trained very easily.

  21. Alon Lischinsky says:

    “…a test-maker who thinks catalyst has a technical antonym knows less about English vocabulary than I do.”

    It’s called “inhibitor” in chemistry.

    Although I’m sure that there’s a pedant somewhere insisting it should be called an analyst.

  22. He’s Brian! We are Robin Hood!

  23. 30,500. But Shakespeare made words up all the time; that’s not me.

  24. Technical was a bad word to choose, because it could be read as ‘valid in technical contexts’ whereas I meant something like ‘exact’. Does an inhibitor merely slow down a reaction that would otherwise occur more quickly, or does it prevent it altogether? (I suppose in the extreme case this is a distinction without a difference, but not all cases are the extreme case.)

  25. January First-of-May says:

    Does an inhibitor merely slow down a reaction that would otherwise occur more quickly, or does it prevent it altogether? (I suppose in the extreme case this is a distinction without a difference, but not all cases are the extreme case.)

    Does a catalyst merely speed up a reaction that would otherwise occur more slowly, or is it necessary for the reaction to happen at all?
    (There are known cases of both, I think, but I’m not very sure if this is still the case in English terminology.)

  26. I’m proud to have so many Shakespeares following this blog.

  27. Another Shakespeare here. My wife would not bother with this kind of test, but she has coined the word “Prigitan” to describe the more tiresome, self righteous, humorless, and vocal of the 21st century Oh Dears

    Feel free to use it in conversation.

  28. According to the Google, “cromulent” was first spoken in 1996 by Lisa Simpson, who is indeed a Shakespeare. (The same episode, say the sources, saw the introduction of “embiggen.”)

  29. Augustus Maria von und zu Blattburg says:

    12 is still quite a lot, isn’t it?

  30. @Bloix: Actually it was first spoken by Lisa’s teacher, Miss Hoover.

  31. @Bloix: Much as I detest that episode of The Simpsons, I definitely remember that is is not Lisa who uses “cromulent.” It’s her teacher (apparently named Miss Hoover).

    EDIT: Dang, beaten to the punch while I was Googling for the teacher’s name.

  32. David Marjanović says:

    Does a catalyst merely speed up a reaction that would otherwise occur more slowly, or is it necessary for the reaction to happen at all?

    The former – though of course many cases of “slowly” are very hard to distinguish from “not at all”.

    Inhibitors, BTW, inhibit catalysts, not reactions themselves.

  33. I think there is something funny about the number 30325. I got it too.

  34. We have reported scores of 22100, 22800, 29100, 30150, 30325, 30500. (These are spaced by multiples of 175, but aren’t multiples of 175 themselves).

    I assume that all 50 words are weighted equally and only correct answers count — which means that a raw score of 0 to 50 points is somehow converted to the numbers we see, supposedly representing vocabulary size. I also tried to get a low score, but missed the first time(!) — 1 correct gives 25, and 0 correct gives 0, both of which are absurd.

    My guess is that they have some more or less scientific data about how many percent of the population that has a given vocabulary size, and cross reference that with numbers for how many percent get a certain score on their test. But the low end is silly, and I strongly suspect that the upper tail of their first curve goes to zero much too fast.

    Maybe they are right that only 1 in 10000 will get 50/50 scores on the test, but I’m sure that many more than 1 in 10000 has a vocabulary larger than 30500 words.

  35. marie-lucie says:

    I find the exactness of those numbers (especially the “Shakespeare” ones) rather disturbing.

  36. I stand corrected.

    “The Springfield town motto is “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.” Schoolteacher Edna Krabappel comments that she never heard the word embiggens until she moved to Springfield. Miss Hoover, another teacher, replies, “I don’t know why; it’s a perfectly cromulent word.””

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisa_the_Iconoclast#Embiggen_and_cromulent

  37. tangent says:

    Bloix, was your argument positively thixotropic (Silly Putty) or negatively thixotropic (ketchup)? I’m a bit stumped how the metaphor runs.

  38. @tangent: “Thixotropic”, when not otherwise qualified, refers to what you call “negatively thixotropic”: becoming less viscous when agitated or subjected to shear stress, especially if it then takes it some time to regain its viscosity.

    Since a weak argument is sometimes called “thin”, I’m guessing that a “thixotropic” argument is one that seems solid at first, until you start poking at it?

  39. The idea was that the underpinning of my argument appeared solid but a good shake would liquify it and the whole structure would come tumbling down. And, my adversary promised, he was about to give it a good shake.

  40. The authors of that test don’t know what “synonym” means. It would have made more sense to say “similonym”.

    The semantic pattern of the questions is that of the old “proportional meaning”, multiple-choice questions: “If X is to Boneheaded as A is to Aardvark, what is X ?”

  41. At any rate the methodology is obvious, but the conclusions false. It is impossible to infer individual abilities from statistical patterns of individual abilities. That is the point of statistics.

    I do not know anywhere near 30,125 words, contrary to what “my” test results claim. It’s moot how large my vocabulary may be – the only way to get a reliable approximation is to check my direct knowledge of several thousands of words. The words used in the test appear to be scattered across the frequency-of-occurrence spectrum in such a way that my results are “close” to those of people who know several thousands of words more, or less, than I do.

  42. Corrosion inhibitors can prevent corrosion altogether (for practical purposes).

    “Inhibitors, BTW, inhibit catalysts, not reactions themselves.”

    Enzyme inhibitors offset the catalytic action of enzymes and, as a result, slow down certain reactions. But you are suggesting an unnecessary restriction of generality. It does not matter how exactly inhibitors manage to slow down chemical reactions as long as they do.

    I’m willing to bet that school chemistry textbooks, at least old-school ones, define “catalyst” and “inhibitor” as antonyms.

  43. SFReader says:

    This test embiggens my vocabulary size

  44. I got them all wrong on purpose. It said my vocab size was 100 words.

  45. @Rick, you missed some. I got it down to 0. “You’re in the last 0.00%”

  46. @Lars

    Ouch! I guess I could have either gotten confused on one of the synonym/antonym ones, or maybe they give partial credit for the 2nd best answer on some of them? Still, it said I was in the bottom 0.01%. Maybe it depends on which questions you get.

  47. tangent says:

    That thixotropy metaphor is clear in hindsight.

    Interesting that the default unqualified is the one referred to as “negative”; I’d more expect a positive bias in naming. Maybe that one was named first (being more common) and then when the term is generalized the sign convention goes by what’s preexisting for viscosity.

  48. tangent says:

    Alexei, I’d say there’s a significance to the distinction whether an inhibitor specifically affects a catalyst or acts on its own: this is whether it’s going to be effective at sub-stoichiometric ratios. A catalytic quantity of inhibitor can prevent a catalyst’s lowering the barrier for any of the reactants. But it can raise the barrier itself only for a small fraction of the molecules, build a ten-km wall on a thousand-km line, right?

  49. Rick, Lars: I’m evicting you both. I can’t have commenters with that small a vocabulary; it lowers the tone.

  50. 0 0. 0 0 0 0, 0.

  51. I’m proud to have so many Shakespeares following this blog.

    But which on of us is the Francis Bacon?

  52. Speaking as a molecular biologist/biochemist, I think that everyone I know in the field would include molecules that sequester a reactant in the category of an inhibitor. This does not inhibit the catalysis at all, it simply makes a reactant inaccesible to the catalyst.

    I have no idea if this is proper usage, but I know that people often say things like, “The locked nucleic acid complementary to the initiation site was an inhibitor of HIV replication.”

  53. marie-lucie says:

    “The locked nucleic acid complementary to the initiation site was an inhibitor of HIV replication.”

    This reminds me of the first time I tried to read an English novel (at age 11 or so). It was all The —- —- was —- and the —- —- , and so on. I gave up after a couple of lines and did not try again until several years later.

  54. I forgot to mention something about “fugacious” (which I apparently misread over my wife’s shoulder). A related word, “fugacity” is the standard term for a quantity that arises in quantum statistical mechanics. In Statistical Mechanics by Kerson Huang (who I learned the subject from), he has a footnote about the word:

    The name fugacity for exp(beta mu) has a dictionary meaning of “the tendency to flee,” or “volatility.” The fugacity of pleasure, the fragility of beauty (Samuel Johnson).

  55. That is a great footnote.

  56. @marie-lucie,

    I had the same experience, almost. I borrowed a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land from my uncle, and since at that point I had read every Danish science fiction book in the public library, I read the whole thing, understanding about 20 percent of the first pages, inferring vocabulary along the way so I got maybe 70 percent on the second reading, 90 on the third. (The story was too exciting to be interrupted by consulting a dictionary).

  57. David Marjanović says:

    After reading The Dinosauria (the first edition of 1990) in the late 90s, I understood both dinosaur anatomy and scientific English.

    This reminds me of the first time I tried to read an English novel (at age 11 or so).

    I have no idea what “locked” is doing there. But the smurfed nucleic acid is DNA or RNA; the initiation site is, from context, the place on the HIV genome where replication starts; sequences are complementary if they have an A in one sequence for every T (DNA) or U (RNA) in the other, a C for every G, and vice versa; so, there’s a stretch of DNA or RNA that sticks to the initiation site, preventing some protein from binding there and triggering replication of the HIV genome. And that’s a good thing.

  58. marie-lucie says:

    David: I’ll take your word for it.

  59. @language hat: He was an amazing professor when I had him (he referred to a state of zero temperature as “a fairyland”), and he had all sorts of interesting literary interests as well. He wrote two graduate physics textbooks (on statistical mechanics and quantum electrodynamics) and did two literary translations. He translated the Rubaiyat into traditional Chinese poetry, and the I Ching into English.

  60. Wow. I wish I’d known him.

  61. David,

    I have no idea what “locked” is doing there.

    LNA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locked_nucleic_acid
    Invented at my alma mater. The article looks rather an advertisement, so one guess as to who the primary author is.

  62. marie-lucie says:

    fugacious

    I don’t think I have encountered this English term, or fugacity which seems to be mostly a technical term in present-day English. But I knew what it meant because of the French adjective fugace, which while not exactly everyday vocabulary, is fairly common in classical poetry and similar high level style. Les heures fugaces ‘fleeting hours’ is a common cliché in this sort of style.

  63. Rodger C says:

    Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume!

  64. Tim May says:

    For what it’s worth, I encountered the word fugacity in an English novel just the other day. (Not in the scientific sense, though it was a science fiction novel.)

  65. marie-lucie says:

    It’s the kind of more or less understood word one might not particularly notice while reading unless it is brought to our attention in another context – like here.

  66. Shouldn’t that be “What Horace says”?

  67. Sit.

  68. “That thixotropy metaphor is clear in hindsight”

    “molecules that sequester a reactant in the category of an inhibitor”

    Youse guys real smart.

  69. David Marjanović says:

    LNA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locked_nucleic_acid

    Benefits and applications! I’m impressed. 🙂 It’s a great idea, though.

  70. January First-of-May says:

    Youse guys real smart.

    I personally understood the latter of those quotes, but not the former.

    (I was thinking of stuff like what carbon monoxide does to hemoglobin, as opposed to any actual complex protein interactions, incidentally – I know very little actual biochemistry. But even with all of this discussion I still can’t figure out the meaning of “thixotropy”.)

  71. A thixotropic fluid is one that undergoes a non-linear change in viscosity as the force applied to it varies. Thixotropic sediment, for example, seems hard enough when only ordinary forces are applied to it, but will change to a jelly under the shock of a strong earthquake, causing buildings on it to fall down. Silly Putty is thixotropic in the other direction: a gentle pulling force will stretch it out enormously, but under a sudden pull it will break like clay.

  72. “This reminds me of the first time I tried to read an English novel (at age 11 or so). It was all The —- —- was —- and the —- —- , and so on. I gave up after a couple of lines and did not try again until several years later.”

    And this is like the first year or so of grad school in many sciences, but there are no good dictionaries. Every fifth word is some kind of field specific jargon, and there are constant interruptions by references in parentheses.

    I just got back from a conference, and a hot topic is that everyone is still debating the ‘real’ meaning of a conceptual term that everyone has been using for over 50 years.

  73. What term is it?

  74. ‘Unlocking’, in terms of a step during the translocation of tRNA and mRNA through the ribosome. Everyone says it, but nobody can agree on what it actually means.

    They know that it can’t happen at first, so it must be ‘locked’ somehow, but then it does happen later, so it must have been ‘unlocked’ somehow.

    Nearly every step in the process has been determined at atomic resolution now, but the definition of ‘locking’ is still somehow mysterious, but constantly used in different contexts.

  75. @Rick: That’s two independent mentions of nucleic acid locking in this thread.

    @John Cowan: Thixotropy is any change in the viscosity of a substance as a function of shear flow velocity. This is equivalent to a nonlinearity in the viscous force.

  76. Ah, right. Slight mixup between the first and second derivatives on my part.

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