TEST YOUR VOCAB.

An enjoyable and useful vocabulary test (via Anatoly) that gives you a bunch of words, asks you to check whether you know them (“Don’t check boxes for words you know you’ve seen before, but whose meaning you aren’t exactly sure of”), and extrapolates your total vocabulary size. The About page says:

TestYourVocab.com is part of an American-Brazilian research project to measure vocabulary sizes according to age and education, and particularly to compare native learning rates with foreign language classroom learning rates. … The site provides accurate results for virtually everyone, from very small children (with answers inputted by parents) to professional linguists. It can calculate vocabulary sizes from less than 100 words to more than 40,000 words. For those interested in exactly how it works, please see the nitty-gritty details page.

I’m a sucker for these things even when they’re done in a haphazard fashion by untrained people, but this is for Science! So give it a try and (if you feel like it) pass it on; they say: “We especially need participation from children and teenagers, where the biggest vocabulary growth occurs, so families are key.”

Comments

  1. My Classics background gives me the ability to break down and interpret rare words like oneiromancy without the need to look them up in any way. I feel like such a cheat.

  2. My Classics background gives me the ability to… feel like such a cheat.
    Don’t feel bad:

    And because we’re using the same vocabulary list to test Brazilians learning English:
    (The test uses) no cognates or false-friends with Portuguese. This probably knocks out at least half the dictionary, since Romance languages have plenty in common with English. False friends need to be avoided as well, since a Brazilian beginner will see “pretend” and assume he knows it means pretender, which actually means “intend.” Interestingly, the no-Portuguese rule leaves the test with a strongly pronounced short Anglo-Saxon flavor.

  3. mattitiahu,
    my classics-fu is much weaker than yours, but, yeah, same here. ‘oneiromancy’ was no problem (there’s lot of it in Arabic and our prof was a fan), but see ‘uxoricide’.
    28400, btw.

  4. Well, cenacle, opsimath, and sparge were ones I couldn’t define, though I have a general sense of their meaning. I also forgot to check tenebrous, but I certainly know a definition for it. The result was 42,800 words, which I think is an underestimate.

  5. valetudinarian, pule, strop, welter, squall (should know those three, but can’t place them),chivvy, adumbrate (know that one, but again can’t recall), bruit, pother, cenacle, vibrissae, cantle, estivation, deracinate …
    Now they’re just getting silly. But at least I can guess uxoricide.

    Your total vocabulary size is estimated to be: 38,300 words.

    Is that good or bad?

  6. That’s very good; 37,867 is 95th percentile. (Scroll down on the results page to see breakdowns by age and percentile.)

  7. 44,100 (I have a feeling this test may bring out the braggodocio in your commenters).
    “Cantle” flummoxed me. I had a feeling I knew what “sparge” was which later proved to be correct, but I didn’t tick it.
    Yeah, I suspect having a knowledge of Latin helps considerably. Also, is there a little bit of a Brit bias? I knew what “chivvy” was because it’s the title of a poem by Michael Rosen I read as a kid. On the other hand, “estivation” is “aestivation” this side of the pond, so maybe not.

  8. octopod says:

    Well, it said “42 900 words”, but that was with omitting a handful of words whose meanings I could deduce but of which I’d never actually thought (they call this “productive vocabulary”). The methodology page is quite interesting.

  9. Noetica says:

    I love these games, and had to take the test. A hard thing for most Hat folk, of course, is that we are right there at one far end of the curve. We fear that we might fall off the edge! Our scores are bound to slip and jump. Can we trust them? We would need a test with more words like rukh, kab, scur, and scun. What is worse, the test is swayed by how we take risks, or how we judge the trust we have in our sense that we know.
    There should at least be a check at the end, to make sure that we in fact have our ten most tough words right. They could be set out for us, and we could be asked to give one sense for each. Then we could take out those on which we find we fail.
    (42,200 here; I did not guess at all, but could well have for sparge, and one or two more.)
    All good fun! Great to see how the short words can fox us.

  10. I must disqualify myself; I checked “sparge” but it turns out that I was thinking of “spurge”.

  11. 38,600 which I was happy with. Annoyed that I had to concede some like “adumbrate”. That was one of a few which rankled because they were just not quite there for me today, but I wanted to play honestly, so said no.

  12. 36,100.

  13. empty: I must disqualify myself; I checked “sparge” but it turns out that I was thinking of “spurge”.
    And I am not qualified to assess the accuracy of your disqualification, since I don’t know what “spurge” means. Are you sure you’re not thinking of “springe” ?

  14. Crown: Interestingly, the no-Portuguese rule leaves the test with a strongly pronounced short Anglo-Saxon flavor.
    What is a short flavor ? Or maybe short Anglo-Saxons are meant. Which ones are those ? I’m 5’8″.

  15. I’m 5’8″
    Five eight is not a test result, Grumbly. I got 34,900, but I’m a visual kind of a guy. Grumbly was one of the words, or maybe it was crumbly or maybe it was stew. Anyway, I bet the Vikings & Saxons were taller than the Mediterranean language speakers.
    What I liked best about that test was the explanation of how they chose the words.

  16. A subaverage amount of 19,600. Not bad for a furriner, though.

  17. Now after seeing Anatoly’s commentators, I’m in deep shame.

  18. I hate to spoil the fun (well, that’s not exactly true), but the claims made by the authors of this test are statistically untenable – at best misleading.
    The authors themselves say:

    The most accurate way to count your vocabulary would be to go through all 45,000+ words and count how many you knew. But that would take a long time.

    In other words, there is no practical way to verify claims as to the absolute size of vocabulary given as a test “result”. The absolute “vocabulary size” numbers could be given as 1/2 of what they are, and no one would be the wiser.
    What the test results perhaps do is to produce verifiable predictions as to the relative performance of those who take the test – relative to each other using the vocabulary sample. That this is all that readers expect to get, is borne out by the subdued, faux-ingenuous way they communicate their results: “Mine is bigger than yours, but of course technique is also important”. I myself don’t believe for a moment that anybody knows 30000 words, not even not-shy yours truly.
    Statistics is a tricky affair. Essentially it is a prosthetic device for making thoughts more mobile and able to connect up with other thoughts. Generalization is another such device. Once you move beyond “That’s a nice bit of leg”, it’s all in your head.
    Until 10 years ago or so, physicists believed they had calculated the mass of the universe pretty accurately. Then they discovered that they were 95% off. Their reaction was not: “Oh my God, physics has been lying to us”. Instead, their perfectly reasonable reaction was: “Well, back to the drawing board”. They are now rearranging the entire self-referential system of physical laws and observations in an attempt to get these in line with: well, not “reality”, but with each other. No sweat, because it’s not real anyway (with a tip of the hat to Fichte).
    The mind talks to itself, folks, just like Sister Ray said, and Luhmann too.

  19. In other words, there is no practical way to verify claims as to the absolute size of vocabulary given as a test “result”.
    I don’t think anyone likely to be taking the test could possibly believe such a thing anyway. Did anyone here seriously think “Oh, I know exactly 41,600 words” (my own result, and I too left “sparge” unchecked because while I knew the general semantic area I wasn’t sure of the exact meaning; I thought it was a religious term, which turns out not to be the case—I was undoubtedly thinking of asperse [and is anyone here familiar with the word asperges, which I discovered while looking up asperse?])?

  20. (Parenthetitis strikes again.)

  21. I thought asperges was asparagus, but I find it’s much more than that.
    Grumbly, you might like this Ted talk. It was a Swedish Cern physicist who told me about it. It has a big plug for Marmite.

  22. Hat: Did anyone here seriously think “Oh, I know exactly 41,600 words”
    It’s not the exactness that is incredible, but merely the approximate magnitude. If I knew even as many 10000 words (which I strongly doubt) I would sell my brain to the Smithsonian, or any solvent takers. Crown ?

  23. Because my German is as good as my English, I suppose that my result would be 81,600. Mine is the biggest.

  24. They are now rearranging the entire self-referential system of physical laws and observations in an attempt to get these in line with: well, not “reality”, but with each other.
    Physics has to be in line with a very large number of realities, but they also try to extend their theorizations into more uncertain areas in order to get a more general theory, and there’s a lot of hit and miss there.

  25. Crown?
    At this time we’re not purchasing live brains, according to my associates. I think I agree with you in principle, but what tools do you use to estimate that you know less than 10,000 words? Is that a wild guess?

  26. brucewareallen says:

    My Classics background gives me the ability to… feel like such a cheat.
    Why? Classics teachers generally cite vocab buildup as the main practical use of their discipline. (It got my classics scholar father-in-law through his college biology finals, or at least, so he said.)
    I hit on this test just as I had reached about page 122 of a novel, which at 340 words per page would, had all the words been unique, just about exhausted my English vocab. Which is a pointless observation, but interesting to contemplate as I flipped those 120 pages read.

  27. If I knew even as many 10000 words (which I strongly doubt)
    George A. Miller and Patricia M. Geddes, in a September 1987 Scientific American article reprinted in SA’s “The Emergence of Language: Development and Evolution” write: “(T)he reading vocabulary of the average high school graduate consist(s) of about 40,000 words. If all the proper names of people and places and all the idiomatic expressions are also counted as words, that estimate would have to be doubled.”
    (The authors are referring, in lexicographer-speak, to dictionary headwords.)
    They continue:
    “This figure says something about the ability of children to learn words. If the average high school graduate is 17 years old, the 80,000 words must have been learned over a period of 16 years. Hence the average child learns at the rate of 5,000 words per year, or about 13 per day. Children with large vocabularies probably pick up new words at twice that rate.”

  28. I did my best, but I just find it really hard to decide whether I “know” a word. Some of the words that I left unchecked are words that I even actively use, but I had a panicked moment of “well, how do I know I use them correctly?”. Maybe I was channeling Grumbly Stu.
    I probably shouldn’t have filled out the survey at the end.
    A few times, trying to decide if I “knew” a word, my first reaction was one that I can only describe as insane: “soul” I initially checked only because I know the music sense, because when I considered the theological sense I grew concerned that different people use the word differently and how was I to know if I mean the exact same thing by it as other people? (I had the same sort of insane reaction for “skill”, which is a word whose meaning I’ve heard people argue over.) Even while filling out the test, I was aware that that was not the level of reflection, or at least not the type of reflection, that the designers were looking for.

  29. anyone here familiar with the word asperges
    Vidi aquam egredientem de templo a latere dextro. Alleluia.
    Maidenhead inside.

  30. Crown: I think I agree with you in principle, but what tools do you use to estimate that you know less than 10,000 words? Is that a wild guess?
    Yes. 10,000 maids lined up in a row is a lot of cockleshells.
    Paul Ogden: George A. Miller and Patricia M. Geddes, in a September 1987 Scientific American article reprinted in SA’s “The Emergence of Language: Development and Evolution” write: “(T)he reading vocabulary of the average high school graduate consist(s) of about 40,000 words.
    The subject of vocabulary size, like that of the number of stars in the universe, is one that in principle is not capable of verification – the principle being “resources are limited, and I can’t be bothered to count”. Enter statistics, and “modelling”.
    This kind of statistics – as opposed to, say industrial quality control – is an attempt to gain knowledge without verification, and without even a suggestion of how the claims might be verified. Such “knowledge” consists of statements-and-observations within a system of statements which refer to each other, as with astronomical physics. I’m not trashing it, I’m just saying that naive realism is not an option here.
    The claims about the absolute magnitude (with margin of uncertainty) of vocabulary size are just numbers in the air. As I said, they could be half their stated values, and nobody would be the wiser – and the authors don’t suggest how you could check up on their claims.
    Statistics is way of gaining knowledge about what you don’t know, but you have to know what you’re doing when you do statistics – and what those are doing who want to foist their statistical claims on you. The problem with this vocabulary test is that people here seem to be assuming that verification of the vocabulary-size claims has already been completed by the test authors, so that there is no point in griping about them. Everybody has compared sizes, and everybody is happy.
    In industrial quality control, production sampling is used to estimate defect percentages. After production-line action has been taken, sampling is again done to see how the defect percentages have changed. There is no way to do this with “vocabulary size”.
    Before I give credence to a claim in an article by Miller/Geddes, regardless of whether it appeared in the Scientific American (now defunct !) or the Catholic Men News, I want to know the full details about what they did, interpreted, assumed, and extrapolated, on the basis of what models. It can’t be that they counted, as just explained, so there must be modelling and extrapolation involved. Why do I want to know this ? Simply because the claim of 40000-words-just-out-of-high-school seems absurdly large to me. I could be wrong, but I don’t see it yet.
    For one thing, that claim is incompatible with the claims of the vocabulary test authors. Here we would have Noetica, the antipodean counterpart to the Library of Sedate Congress, exposed as not knowing many more words than Dolores Haze would, it she ever finished high school (I’m not going to finish rereading the book to find out, it’s too irritating).
    The vocabulary test authors take the trouble to explain the “nitty-gritty”, which is mathematically simple in their case – but it involves non-mathematical assumptions about the extrapolability of measurements that are not made explicit.
    There is of course an easy way for me to figure out for myself whether 40000 words is plausible in my case. Trouble is, I don’t give a rat’s bottom about it.

  31. Anthony says:

    Having brewed beer at home in my past, I knew *a* meaning for “sparge”, and I knew that the term was also used in chemistry, though looking it up in Wikipedia tells me that in chemistry and chemical engineering, one sparges a gas through a liquid, while a brewer sparges a liquid through a solid.

  32. (Scroll down on the results page to see breakdowns by age and percentile.)

    Thanks. I’d missed that. I think I was probably too lenient on myself for some of the words, so it’s likely an overestimate.

  33. I knew that sparge was either weaving or brewing,but couldn’t remember which.

  34. Noetica says:

    I go to all the pain of a post where each word has just one … just one … well, is real short. And no one sees what I did! Or it could be that the jest was too crass to speak of.
    I am with Stu on the stats, and on those tricks of mind. If I had big words to hand I would add some points. But his claim of less than 10,000? Hmmm. I think my hoard of words with just one … you know what … would be that full, or more.

  35. @Noetica – I am SO sorry that your very clever post was far too clever for me to realise what you’d done! Wasn’t “42,200″ a bit of a cheat, though? :)

  36. Noetica says:

    No. I say that 42,200 is not a word with parts of that kind. (Well, I would say that, yes? ☺) It is a sign that does not track the sounds of any tongue. Like “=”, or “>”. What is the count for either of those, pray tell?

  37. Noetica says:

    Damn! Should have had “each of those”. Grrr.

  38. I yield, since “Four point two two times ten times ten times ten times ten” is more hard to read.

  39. Noetica says:

    Right.

  40. You did it so well — your post was so smooth, so much like what one might write who had no such goal — that I, for one, did not catch that there was a way in which your prose was odd.
    By the way, there is a man who likes to do the same thing; his term for it is “words of one beat“, which may take some folks a sec to grasp, but I can’t think of a way to say it that would not, so *shrug*

  41. Noetica, I did notice that your post was not so polysyllimbricate as usual. It didn’t occur to me that it might be a ruse. Simple prolonged exposure to my fellow citizens has that effect on me.

  42. I’m curious, who’s familiar with the word “pococurante”? Or rather — a more telling question, given the audience — who isn’t?

  43. I spotted what you were up to, BTW, Noetica; I just didn’t want to share. I also got 70,000. Exactly. Jesus, my absence from LH has affected me profoundly: I’ve become a shitty liar with low self-esteem. Stick around, guys. It’s a good place.

  44. Ran:
    Huh! A neat way to nudge the trick one more step. Yes, “words of one beat”. That … rings a bell.
    Odd: though I might have a vast store of long words, much of the time I find that I choose, in their stead, those that are most clipped. Great strings of them! A fault of style, in the end, just as much as a hail of ones like snakes or drakes of fire would be.
    Stu:
    A style of words with tile on tile, scale on scale? It may be so. But see what I said to Ran just now. You know, this thing of a count of words is sore (like sehr) vexed. For a start, what is a word to be? And then, what is it to know a word? Next, how best to test that one knows? This is all in the books, not new. But the stats, and their hold on the mind (that Old Man of the Sea), they are less well conned – and fool both churl and earl, I wot.
    James:
    Yes, I knew (and know) that word, but to it I say: “Meh! I should care?”

  45. I did not know pococurante, but as a good opsimath I looked it up and know it now, as well as cenacle and sparge.

  46. Ah, well, if you didn’t know it, John, that really answers my question: it’s rare as hell.
    Noetica, you were one lexeme wiser and yet, somehow, less helpful. It’s good to see you again, even stripped of your polysyllables.

  47. sore (like sehr) vexed
    !!?? Nice news.

  48. James: Good to catch up with you. We should hang out here a while. Who will keep them on their toes, if not us?
    Stu: Thought you might like that one.

  49. “Here we would have Noetica, the antipodean counterpart to the Library of Sedate Congress, exposed as not knowing many more words than Dolores Haze would, it she ever finished high school”
    I’m quite happy to expose my ignorance of Dorothy Haze rather than googlefaking it, my fellow Stu, but I do have a question for you: As one who did not finish high school, I’m interested in knowing if there are statistics establishing a causal link between that situation and vocabulary size, and if there are, what your assessment of their rigour and merit would be?

  50. Wictionary says the comparative is “more pococurante”, but I usually hear “pococurantier”. Maybe it’s a Norwegian thing.
    Noe: I too can write strings of short words like you’ve done, but have you tried the… opposite strategy, namely writing sentences using only polysyllabic constructions? It’s no piece of cake.

  51. Noetica says:

    Extremely difficult, any composition employing polysyllables, denying oneself monosyllables altogether. Whoever achieves anything over seven sentences deserves everyone’s commendation. Nearly every common pronoun languishes unused. Conjunctions similarly. Madeleine morsels? Hardly. Gugelhupf fragments? Linzertorte pieces? Koeksister crumbles? Forget about every variation: simply nothing resembling gateau-segments. Nothing within cooee.

  52. Because at the moment Google defaults to its French version for me, I find pococurante was invented by Voltaire, from the Italian poco and curante. And I know cenacle as a French word. How many of these rather obscure supposedly English words are just French or other “foreign” words used very occasionally in English texts, and not normally part of the English vocabulary ? That would rather skew the test’s results.

  53. Stuart: As one who did not finish high school, I’m interested in knowing if there are statistics establishing a causal link between that situation and vocabulary size, and if there are, what your assessment of their rigour and merit would be?
    Dorothy Haze is the “nymphet” Lolita figure.
    I don’t know any statistics of the kind you mention. From my own small experience with people, I’d say that vocab and smarts can take off at any time, high school graduation or not. So much time is wasted in American high schools – judging from my own sufferings back when, and by what I now hear from friends in the States, and my sister. But the faults are not all with the school system.
    I remember being struck by the number of well-read, intelligent hangouts one could meet in the States. When I came to Germany in 1971, I imagined that there weren’t as many such people – but this turned out to be wrong. My first impressions were stamped by my considerable ignorance of German and Germany, the fact that less money was floating around here, people worked harder and didn’t have time to hang out, etc.

  54. Thanks for the heads-up on Dorothy Haze. I’ve always been a lazy reader, only reading books that interested me, even if that meant browbeating my high school English teacher into letting me read Seven Pillars of Wisdom instead of some prescribed Dickens drudgery.

  55. Hi Jim ! Is this your day off this year ?? I think Hat mentioned that you guys had a lot of work to do.

  56. I’m totally down with cenacles. Around here they even used to have an actual cenacle, which I rode past with my father in 1960 or so. It was some kind of Catholic retreat or shrine, I think.
    In 19th c. France it was used to designate literary circles — there was a Cenacle (Victor Hugo) and then a Petit(e) Cenacle (Gautier). Nodier’s Arsenal preceded the two Cenacles. Nodier, Hugo, and Gautier were famous for being willing to praise the work of any new poet who came along; William Carlos Williams had the same kind of reputation, which eventually causes praise to circulate at a discount.

  57. Noe:
    Not bad! Good, in fact.

  58. an actual cenacle
    On Jerusalem’s Mt. Zion there’s a room revered as the site of the Last Supper. It’s called the Cenacle, of course, and just below it is the Cenotaph, which some say is the burial place of King David.

  59. Is it just me, or do Noetica’s excellent single-syllabic sprees come across as almost like blank verse to others here as well?

  60. Talking of which, I just read that haikus in English ought to be about 12 syllables rather than the Japanese 17. It’s because the Japanese ones are shorter or something. I don’t really get it: either they’re syllables or they aren’t.

  61. A Japanese haiku has 17 consonants, doesn’t it? So, by some logic, an English haiku should also have 17 consonants, which might mean that on average it has about 12 syllables.

  62. Well you can listen to it here, at least I hope you can from the USA, a BBC radio program by Stephen Fry on “Brevity” (actually I got it from Sashura, who mentioned the thing in the intro about French people tweeting “now” instead of maintenant” – we don’t know if that’s true, though). Anyway, he talks to a woman (at about 2 minutes in) about haikus, and she says they contain 17 Japanese “sound symbols”, which ought to translate to about 12 of our syllables…

  63. J. W. Brewer says:

    AJP: wiki sez: “For example, haiku in modern Japanese do not follow the pattern 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables, as commonly believed, but rather the pattern 5 moras/7 moras/5 moras.” Don’t know what the average mora:syllable ratio in English is – it’s not an analysis I’ve seen used very often.

  64. Yes, I think she’s saying it’s apples and orangutans, so there’s no need to be too accurate. She doesn’t get as far as condensing the 5/7/5 down into 12.

  65. Noetica says:

    O’ Human Pondage, eh Korn? Another eggcorn? I do like the collocation of apes and oranges, haiku and antisesquipedalianity. Do you work out?

  66. the pattern 5 moras/7 moras/5 moras
    O tempores, O moras !

  67. Noetica says:

    When mora is lesser.

  68. Yes, only 21 letters; whereas antifootandahalflongness would have been 24. It’s hard to work out when, but I’ll try to work some working out in.

  69. Noetica says:

    Contrafootandahalflongitude, my dear *krn-. 27.

  70. on

  71. Øn, your “on” link doesn’t work.

  72. Oh. I don’t know what about it was off.

  73. J.W. Brewer says:

    Oh, just re the somewhat cryptic reference to “sound symbols”: there is apparently a 1:1 correspondence between kana and morae (or so it is popularly believed, with specialist carping ignored), so if a traditional haiku is written out in hiragana w/o kanji it will consist of exactly 17 characters.

  74. there was a time when it would’ve bothered me that someone got a higher score than me (42,000), but now i’m just glad that all those words are still in some people’s heads… spell-check isn’t going to keep them.
    old friends, like “opsimath” (can’t use that one enough)…
    ah, morae! a debate that, while useless, can be entertaining. just so we are all on the same page as to “syllable weights” in English, i submit “I Am So Proud” (from The Mikado): “To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock…” in other words, unlike languages with relatively homogenous syllables, in English it matters enormously whether the syllable has sounds that flow into adjacent words, or sounds that stop the flow. Bridges, when he tried to revive quantitative verse, discovered that. so you really can’t transfer a unit of measure of liquids into measuring lumpy mixtures of solids, eh? (not that we can’t invent something with an equivalent function in English: i think the tanka to be more adaptable than the haiku, for example.)

  75. Thanks, JW, for your expert help, and thanks Ön&Öff for your research. If a picture is worth a thousand words of description so it seems is a sound.

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