TEST YOUR VOCAB: RESULTS.

A couple of years ago I posted about “an enjoyable and useful vocabulary test that gives you a bunch of words, asks you to check whether you know them, and extrapolates your total vocabulary size”; now they’ve put online a summary of their results, and I thought I’d pass it along, since the original test attracted quite a bit of interest. Some of the bullet points:

• Most adult native test-takers range from 20,000–35,000 words
• Average native test-takers of age 8 already know 10,000 words
• Average native test-takers of age 4 already know 5,000 words
• Adult native test-takers learn almost 1 new word a day until middle age
• The most common vocabulary size for foreign test-takers is 4,500 words
• Foreign test-takers tend to reach over 10,000 words by living abroad

There’s more info, and links to details, at the site. (Thanks, Paul!)

Comments

  1. It’s nice to see them specifying “test-takers”. I sincerely doubt they (we? – I don’t recall) are representative of the population.
    How many 5-year-olds are likely to have taken this test, unless their parents considered them exceptional?

  2. Hah!
    I’ve gone down to 32600 compared to 38300 last time.
    Have I gotten stupider or honester?

  3. You’d have to expect that their adult native test-takers were the kind of people who like vocabulary and are expecting to score well.
    Who else is going to say, “Oooh – an online vocabulary test! Let’s see how many words we know!”
    So the average range of vocabulary they find is, I expect, far higher than actual average range.

  4. marie-lucie says:

    I just took the test (posted on facebook) and did quite well. The explanations at the end are very interesting (what qualifies as a word, how words were chosen or eliminated, etc).

  5. my test result is 27700, i am glad, knowing the medical terms helped i guess

  6. Adelfons says:

    Thanks Hat. I done real good! No wonder my students look at me so strangely. …Seriously, if I, a functional idiot, am nearly off this chart, what can I do to be understood by my students (here in East Tennessee) but smallen my vocabulary even smaller? I try so hard to be understood…. Maybe I should just wave my arms and shake my hips and grunt.

  7. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I can”t remember what I got last time (and I don’t seem to have posted it on this site). This time: 36800, but there are always some doubt as to whether one really knows a definition and whether definition one thinks one knows is a real one. I didn’t tick “mawkish” or “disjunctive”, though neither would occasion much surprise if I heard or read them. If I’d guessed a definition for “mawkish” it would have been more or less what the SOED gives third: “feebly sentimental”. As for “disjunctive” it’s obvious from the form of the word what sort of meaning it might have, bu tI didn’t know what context it would be appropriate. On the other hand I probably ticked one or two for which my definitions would have been plain wrong. Incidentally, as a one-time home brewer I knew exactly what “sparge” means, as I’ve done a fair amount of sparging in my time.

  8. marie-lucie says:

    Athel: “Sparge” is one of the words I did not know, although I remembered having seen it somewhere. What does it mean?

  9. befuggled says:

    According to the dictionary “sparge” means to sprinkle or scatter. I know it as a brewing term. At the risk of oversimplifying, to sparge is to rinse the grains after the initial extraction in order to get the maximum amount of sugars from them.

  10. Saddens me that I should have forgotten the same words I missed the last time. (“Wait, wait, I know that one, that’s – oooh, tip of my tongue-”)
    On the other hand, pulling neologisms from psychic researchers, well….

  11. I scored 28,400 though I have to admit there were words that I THINK i know the meaning of but I could be wrong. Does that matter? Or is it just about what I think I know…….??

  12. Is there any kind of upper limit on knowledge of vocabulary? For instance, if you know several foreign languages, do you start to get memory fatigue from the absolute number of words you are supposed to know? Or doesn’t it work that way? I’m convinced it’s getting harder to remember more and more words…

  13. Bathrobe: Is there any kind of upper limit on knowledge of vocabulary? For instance, if you know several foreign languages, do you start to get memory fatigue from the absolute number of words you are supposed to know?
    Wow! That’s something that should be examined, though it might be tricky if you’re testing for vocabulary size among a group of bilingual French-English speakers because of the large vocabulary overlap.

  14. You’d have to do it with pairs of unrelated languages, but i’m sure you could find enough speakers to test. I got 38,300. I clicked words that I could come up with a synonym for (I might have been overconfident, though.) And I didn’t click sparge, because that would have been cheating.

  15. Oh, and about how representative their test-takers are of the general population, they say:
    “Now, remember that these percentiles are not for the population as a whole, but rather just those who have taken the test online. Comparing with self-reported SAT scores from previous analysis, overall participation is in roughly the 98th percentile of the American population as a whole — it is apparently a very “elite” group of people who spend their time taking vocabulary tests on the Internet! ”

  16. dearieme says:

    “sparge” also means to blow bubbles into liquids. Children enjoy doing it with drinking straws.

  17. I scored 25,455, yikes that’s the lowest score posted on here!!!!
    Thank god for Smartphones and Google!!

  18. i retook it and the score is 25.3k now which is more like objective i guess, must be with the repeated attempt people choose the words more carefully if other people also report lower scores at the repeated attempt
    my russian must be have around the same number of words if not a bit higher, with my native mongolian that would yield around 60 k and my japanese would yield some 10k or a bit fewer words, cz i used to know only around 800 kanjis, now i guess i have forgotten almost all of them, but spoken words being around x10 to that number feels like feasible, so overall it’s close to 90-100k, wow! but maybe words in different languages would count as the same unit number, as if like having overlapping meanings, when they activate whatever neurons and connections between them, who knows

  19. I must be still be overconfident if that’s what other people score.
    I’m probably Dunning-Krugering myself: Assuming that I know something that I reality I don’t.

  20. 35,000. But if you are a linguist and work with words for a living, you’ll know what uxoricide is even if you have never seen or done it before.

  21. dearieme says:

    I suppose that if you were a linguist and worked with words for a living, you’d misunderstand Islamophobic unless you’d met it before.

  22. Piotr – if only! Well, “uxoricide” probably only has one possible meaning, but German compound words always stump me: even though I know both parts, I either can’t make sense of it, or put together the wrong meaning, or the meaning can’t actually be guessed from the components you have…

  23. If I only know roughly 36100 words and I’m about average, it seems a bit of a waste of all the other words. I bet most of the words that I know are the same as the ones everyone else knows (that is the point, after all) so most of the words – what is it half a million? A million? – are just sitting there waiting for someone to come and try them on, poor things.

  24. marie-lucie says:

    Piotr: you’ll know what uxoricide is even if you have never seen or done it before.
    I would hope that you wouldn’t have to have done the deed in order to know the meaning of the word!

  25. Should have studied my uxoricides first :) Got 26,600 which is in reasonable agreement with “2.5 new words a day” but are they really “new”? I’m pretty much positive that a number of “complicated” words never crossed my path in the Anglo world; rather, I know them from my first language, or from my exposure to Gallicisms and Latinisms in school back home. These vibrissae, melanges, leitmotivs etc. all sound totally Russian to me.

  26. Got a pretty high score. I was taking it was wondering if British speakers might have an advantage with some of the words…
    I can’t remember them all, but I felt like several (like “natter, for example) seemed like the kind of terms which might possibly still be encountered in the UK but not US. (I’m American)

  27. Glad that most of you guys have a great score. As for me, since English is not my native language, I scored lower than all of you. It’s okay at least I understand your language. Just not too much of the jargon ones.

  28. I forgot to include this comment. Are most of the words before the result medical terms? I saw someone here who said that. I guess that’s the reason why I didn’t know it. It’s not even familiar.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    AG: natter, not American? Wasn’t it an American who committed “nattering nabobs of negativism”?

  30. Marie-Lucie:
    True, but I think natter is “chiefly Brit.” in most dictionaries and in my experience. Maybe it was common in the US several generations ago, but it’s definitely died out.
    I think the nabobs quote is a good example of someone overreaching for alliteration just to show off. Since 2/3 of the words are essentially meaningless for the majority of Americans, it’s kind of a pointless phrase to have somehow survived in the collective consciousness.
    And… what exactly was the metaphor here? Certain people are “Indian rulers or people of great wealth or prominence” of… the concept of negativity itself? That’s a pretty opaque figure of speech.

  31. 41,500 but I brew my own beer so I know what “sparge” means. I think the methodology of this test is a bit dodgy though. How much does each definition account for?

  32. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I think the nabobs quote is a good example of someone overreaching for alliteration just to show off.
    That’s exactly what it was, and I think most people thought so at the time. The perpetrator was Spiro T. Agnew, Richard Nixon’s Vice President until he was removed from office for (if I remember rightly) offences relating to tax evasion. I don’t suppose he had much idea of what a nabob was.

  33. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Marie-Lucie: Befuggled has given an accurate definition of “sparge”, so I won’t repeat it. However, I’ve never come across it in Dearieme’s sense.
    Befuggled: is your nickname derived from “Fuggles”? When I was brewing the main strains of hops used in the UK were Fuggles and Goldings.

  34. befuggled says:

    Athel: you’re exactly right! Sadly, I can’t drink regular beer any more, and the gluten-free stuff is usually awful. There’s still wine, though.

  35. The perpetrator was Spiro T. Agnew, Richard Nixon’s Vice President until he was removed from office for (if I remember rightly) offences relating to tax evasion. I don’t suppose he had much idea of what a nabob was.
    Actually, the perp was William Safire, who wrote the speech and was (justly) proud that his alliterative abomination had entered cultural memory so firmly. Agnew was a horrible man; I like Wikipedia’s “Critics have cited him as being one of the worst Vice Presidents in American history.” And of course Nixon, asked why he kept Agnew on the ticket in 1972, famously replied that “No assassin in his right mind would kill me.”
    Yes, the official charge was tax evasion, but the real offense was massive bribery and corruption. He was notorious for that in Maryland before he ever became VP. Another nice bit from Wikipedia: “As a result of his no-contest plea, the State of Maryland later disbarred Agnew, calling him ‘morally obtuse’.”

  36. dearieme says:

    However, I’ve never come across it in Dearieme’s sense.
    WKPD is nearly right: “Sparging (chemistry), a process used in chemistry whereby a chemically inert gas is bubbled through a liquid”, but the gas needn’t be inert. Often the gas is air and its oxygen is intended to react. Fluid dynamicists used to analyse this sort of thing; whether they still do I don’t know.

  37. marie-lucie says:

    nattering
    I live in Canada and I am sure I have heard at least one person use the phrase nattering away in the course of conversation. This person was not a close acquaintance and I don’t remember who it was, but she did not have a British accent or give signs of wanting to display a very large vocabulary. But the fact that I remember the phrase seems to mean that it struck me somewhat, perhaps because it was unusual although I already knew the word.
    I did not remember exactly who referred to the nattering nabobs etc, but Safire is indeed more likely than Agnew to have thought up the phrase. I had no ides that Safire had been a speechwriter for him!

  38. marie-lucie:
    South of the 49th parallel (or whatever it is), I don’t think there’s any use of “Xing away” to mean talking except for:
    yammering away
    chattering away
    jawing away
    blabbing away
    …”nattering away” just isn’t an American phrase, at least not any more, in my experience. But then again I’m not a representative of all US dialects, maybe it’s common in Boston or Louisiana or something…?

  39. nattering, nattering away
    The word and the phrase are known to this ex-pat Canadian. I know I’ve heard them and I’m sure I’ve used them too.
    As Hat noted, “nattering nabobs of negativism” was coined by William Safire in a speech he wrote for “Spiggy.” Safire at the time was Nixon’s speechwriter and I suppose his duties extended to writing speeches for the veep as well.
    That was in the late 60s and early 70s. Did the White House employ only one speechwriter back then? Maybe, but I recall reading a few years ago that there’s a whole crew working on presidential speeches today. From what I’ve seen in the corporate world, that seems not only likely but necessary.
    Jon Favreau, a former director of speechwriting for President Barack Obama, pulled in a cool $172K a year for his work.

  40. J.W. Brewer says:

    Agnew and/or Agnew-scripted-by-Safire were supposed to be fond of alliteration more generally (with the N N’s of Nism quote being only one example). Alas, I learn from googling that the traditional attribution to Agnew of “Kremlin on the Crum” to describe Swarthmore College turns out to be unsubstantiated. http://daily.swarthmore.edu/2007/03/06/ask-the-gazette-where-does-the-kremlin-on-the-crum-come-from/
    Agnew was selected as Nixon’s running mate in large part because of his (as of 1968) moderate/liberal image, which (corruption having no particular left/right affiliations) appears to have been largely deserved at least in the context of his prior career in Maryland politics. I’m not sure how one rates anyone’s actual performance as Vice-President, given the nebulous duties of the office. Indeed, one could say that a Vice President who becomes so divisive/unpopular that he makes the President look good by comparison is selflessly performing a great service to the administration.

  41. his (as of 1968) moderate/liberal image
    That’s, er, not how some of us saw him, but it may reflect the Time magazine view.

  42. J.W. Brewer says:

    Well, political image is a funny thing, since Nixon was widely perceived at the time as much more conservative (within the spectrum of politically active Republicans of the day) than he actually was in hindsight. But not only wikipedia but I think anyone who’s ever studied the matter accepts that Agnew won his election as Governor of Maryland because of crossover votes from liberal Democrats who were unhappy that their party had, via a messy primary, nominated someone from the not-quite-ready-to-move-past-Jim-Crow wing (the last vestiges of Jim Crow in early ’60′s Maryland are depicted rather comically in Hairspray, but they were real). Rather a lot changed rather rapidly after 1966, and lots of politicians with thitherto “progressive” records had diverse reactions to the chaotic and violent developments of 1968 (whether in the U.S. or in Europe).
    My favorite bit of contemporaneous Agnew commentary is an old Art Buchwald piece explaining how the VP had made a grave political miscalculation by attacking “pseudo-intellectuals” because actual intellectuals were few and far between in the U.S. and essentially powerless whereas pseudo-intellectuals constituted a far more numerous bloc of voters that it was accordingly imprudent to anger.

  43. I recall reading a few years ago that there’s a whole crew working on presidential speeches today.
    Seven, from what I read. CBS says that in Obama’s first year, he gave 411 “speeches, comments, and remarks”, whatever that may mean. Surely lot of these are re-treads, re-worked for the given venue (“Helloooo Philadelphia! How about those Local Sports Heroes?”)?
    Fun fact: Harding was the first president to employ a full time speech writer. (Coolidge gave it a pass – Silent Cal and all that, plus he was cheap with public money). Of course, Northcote Parkinson noted long ago that it is the nature of bureaucracy to metastasize, so I suppose we should be grateful that it’s only seven.

  44. Nixon was widely perceived at the time as much more conservative [...] than he actually was in hindsight
    Indeed, he has been justly called the last liberal president. Which of his successors, faced with inflation, would dare to impose wage and price controls?
    nattering nabobs
    Agnew is also important to linguistics as the subject of Jerry Morgan’s 1973 sentence Spiro conjectures Ex-Lax [trade name for a laxative], which looks ungrammatical (it violates subcategorization restrictions) until you learn that it’s the reply to the question What does Pat Nixon frost her cakes with?

  45. “My hero is Spiro” was inscribed on a cheap US-made watch that Joseph Brodsky used to wear as a young man in Leningrad in the 1960s (according to his good friend, the translator Andrei Sergeev).
    That, perhaps, is how and where Brodsky’s weakness for English off-rhymes of suspicious quality began. (Although for some American speakers, it must be an exact rhyme.)

  46. Trond Engen says:

    Posted by Billiga Fettavskiljare [...]
    That Swedish is a fake, anyway.

  47. (Although for some American speakers, it must be an exact rhyme.)
    I would venture to say it’s an exact rhyme for virtually all Americans. How else would you pronounce either word other than ending in /-iro/?

  48. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I just found a “nattering” in the wild in an impeccably American source posted yesterday: http://tinyurl.com/jvfu7py
    I suppose it’s possible that P. Z. Myers is a lurker at LanguageHat and slipped it in to see if anyone would notice, but somehow I doubt it.

  49. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    (Although for some American speakers, it must be an exact rhyme.)
    I would venture to say it’s an exact rhyme for virtually all Americans. How else would you pronounce either word other than ending in /-iro/?
    It’s not even an approximate rhyme for me (but I’m not American). For me “Spiro” rhymes with “tyro” or “biro”. I realize of course that a Greek would not pronounce it like that.
    How do you pronounce “biro”? I expect László József Biró would have pronounced his name closer to rhyming with “hero” than with “tyro”, but I’ve never heard of the thing itself pronounced the way he woud have said. Then again, maybe “biro” is a British word: do you call them that in the US, or do you stick with “ball-point pen”?

  50. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Nixon, asked why he kept Agnew on the ticket in 1972, famously replied that “No assassin in his right mind would kill me.”
    Charles II (of England, not Spain) said something similar when his brother, later James II, chided him for not worrying enough about his personal security. He said something along the lines of “No one would kill me in order to put you on the throne.” He was probably right, too, as he was very popular, and his brother was anything but.

  51. That depends on whether one hears/pronounces a diphthong or a monophthong in “hero.” In standard BA, it’s a diphthong while “Spiro” requires the same sound as “mirror”.
    One could put it differently, does “nearer” rhyme with “mirror” (or God-fearin’ with Helen Mirren)?

  52. For me “Spiro” rhymes with “tyro” or “biro”. I realize of course that a Greek would not pronounce it like that.
    Nor would an American. Not out of some ineluctable national Sprachgefühl, but because everyone heard his name on TV with the correct (i.e., his) pronunciation. It’s not like “gyro,” which famously differs according to geography (New Yorkers rhyme it with “tyro,” Californians with “hero”).
    Then again, maybe “biro” is a British word: do you call them that in the US, or do you stick with “ball-point pen”?
    Purely British; we say “ball-point pen.”
    does “nearer” rhyme with “mirror” (or God-fearin’ with Helen Mirren)?
    Yup (for me and, I think, most Americans).

  53. John Emerson says:

    Test definitely favors home brewers with that “sparge”.
    I gave myself the benefit of the doubt on everything and got 41,000, but some of my definitions were very vague.

  54. marie-lucie says:

    nearer/mirror
    I am surprised: it seems to me that the vowel of mirror is definitely shorter than that of nearer. Removing er leaves near, while if the or in mirror was interpreted as a suffix, keeping the same vowel in a possible word mirr as in the actual mirror would not be possible.

  55. I for one don’t have the nearer-mirror merger, but I do have (unexpectedly for someone with the rest of my accentual features) the hurry-furry merger. Both of these mergers are instances of a /V#rV/ sequence becoming /Vr#rV/, where /#/ means ‘morpheme boundary’.
    As for sparge, I’d guess it was put in as what psychologists call a ‘lie scale’: people whose vocabulary is not immense but claim to know what sparge means are probably lying, and their results should be discarded, or at least reported separately.

  56. people whose vocabulary is not immense but claim to know what sparge means
    I wonder how many of us have spelling problems, perhaps as severe as dyslexia, which mean that they read with reliance on context, and confuse words when no context is provided? Like sparge or splurge or asparagus or disparage, who knows the difference when the context is nil :) ?

  57. Adelfons says:

    m-l and JC, “mirror” and “nearer” are exact rhymes in my midwestern TV-news dialect, as are “hero” and “Spiro.” Here in East Tennessee, however, “pen” and “pin” have the same pronunciation, which I find strange, but what do you do?

  58. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    As for sparge, I’d guess it was put in as what psychologists call a ‘lie scale’: people whose vocabulary is not immense but claim to know what sparge means are probably lying, and their results should be discarded, or at least reported separately.
    You could be right, but I’d be worried if you were, because you don’t need to be well educated — the clerisy, if you like — or have a huge vocabulary to know what sparge. I imagine there are plenty of not very highly educated people who work in breweries and regard sparge as an everyday word, but have no idea what disjunctive, for example, might mean.
    Actually, of all the words in the sample sparge is the one that worried me the most (before reading your comment) because it’s a word that a small section of the population know very well, and most of the others, no matter how many words they know, have never come across.

  59. Just so. But dropping that small group of brewers etc. will probably not bias the results much. I note that the reported SAT scores indicate that the sample is hopelessly biased toward people with a large vocabulary anyway (who else would bother to take such a test?)

  60. i took it again and it says now 29400, so must be the average of three attempts is 27500, i mean for the foreigners living in the language environment the score of 10K seems like low, if even i can score higher than that, and if the words sets don’t change from an attempt to attempt, then how it could be like objective though
    one would look up all the words and score the maximum even if to continue like this

  61. marie-lucie says:

    Read, I think your vocabulary and general command of English have improved a lot in the few years you have been commenting here.
    When the testers mention foreigners, the average result is quite limited (about 10% of the possible total), but many of the people testing in that category might have just taken English courses at school in their own country. Of course spending time in an English-speaking country will raise the number of words known, but the total also depends a lot on the length of time spent there: six months or a year as a foreign student in the relevant country is not the same as spending many years of your life there.

  62. excuse me, m-l, would you feel as free to comment on other commenters’ language skills as you felt free to comment on mine? that seems like that, singling out, don’t you think? you are not my teacher and i dont need your evaluation, thank you very much, i wrote what i thought about the test not asking this kind of feedback, i guess
    cz it feels like pretty strange, similar to getting the names of paleontologists from my country listed in a thread with a completely irrelevant topic, i know, it’s all with good intentions, but please don’t comment on my humble person how i behave, i am not the topic of the thread and i hope you’ll understand my reaction

  63. marie-lucie says:

    read, I am sorry if I offended you, and I take your point about “evaluating”, but I was a teacher for many years and I still have some of the reflexes of a teacher.
    You wrote: for the foreigners living in the language environment the score of 10K seems like low, if even i can score higher than that
    “If even I can score higher than that” seems to imply that you don’t have a very high opinion of your skills, and that was the attitude I meant to counteract. I don’t feel that I was singling you out. If someone else, for instance a Russian or Norwegian or another French-speaking person, had written a comment like yours, I might have written back the same thing.

  64. excuse me, m-l, would you feel as free to comment on other commenters’ language skills as you felt free to comment on mine? that seems like that, singling out, don’t you think? you are not my teacher and i dont need your evaluation, thank you very much
    Jesus Christ, read, m-l was trying to be nice to you. Ever since you’ve been here, ruining threads with your self-centered babbling, refusing to listen to anyone, she’s consistently been welcoming and talked to you like a normal person. And you reward her with this childish outburst. That’s it, I’m deleting your comments from here on out, I’ve had enough of your bullshit.

  65. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Jesus Christ, read, m-l was trying to be nice to you.
    Not just trying to be nice; she was succeeding in being nice. I’ve seen the same sort of thing on other blogs and news groups, and it always annoys me when the nicest and most helpful person around gets attacked for childish reasons.

  66. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    dropping that small group of brewers etc. will probably not bias the results much.
    You’re right, of course, and it should have been obvious to me. I expect the percentage of uneducated brewery workers who took the test is as low as you could ask for.

  67. read’s latest outburst seems to have been the last straw for Hat, but it was relatively mild: she said “excuse me”, “i know, it’s all with good intentions”, “please”, and “i hope you’ll understand my reaction”.

  68. marie-lucie says:

    LH, I agree with Ø. Read was quite nice to me in this exchange.

  69. I think I’ve been extremely tolerant of read over the years (clearly more so than all those “other administrators” who have banned her that she keeps mentioning), but she is clearly not going to change the way she interacts, and I’ve had enough. The very fact that her response is to keep stubbornly posting the same message over and over rather than go find something else to do shows the depth of her problems. I feel sorry for her, but I am not her therapist and I am running this blog for my benefit, not hers.
    I think I’ll close this thread, since the original topic seems to have been exhausted.

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