Wednesday, August 06, 2008

I only know 48 of the most common words

The problem with this game is that you can play it only once.* That's also part of its beauty. Anyway it's worth the 5 minutes just to see how you do. (The post title is my score.)

The challenge: list the 100 most common words in English. The game will automatically enter the words as you type them. If you are entering a longer word and the first letter or two is also a word it will take the shorter word first. Then you can just retype the longer word and it will take it automatically.

Come back for a panel discussion on the point of a game like this. What do you think of exercises like this? What did you learn? Were you uncomfortable with any of the tasks? What might this tell us about the language? Did you feel respected?

via: languagehat


*you could of course play it again but that'd be kinda lame.


  1. I don't know what the point of a game like this is unless it's to beat other people and gloat selfishly over your point value, so with that, I got 63.

    But really, I thought it was interesting. It makes you think about how much you take those poor little words for granted.

  2. I got 45, and missed "of," "to," and "and," which were numbers 2,3, and 4.

    That's hard.

  3. I got 72, but that's probably because I use a handout listing these in a course I teach. Obviously I haven't memorized it, though!

    On the other hand, it's interesting that a, an and all the forms of be and have are considered separate words...

  4. I got 41. I thought it was fine. It was interesting to me some of the action verbs that are in the top 100.

  5. One of the things it tells us, of course, is that function words are far more common than content words - partly because they are, well, function words, and partly because they are a small, closed class. New nouns, verbs, and modifiers crop up daily; new prepositions very rarely (and usually by combining existing words, such as by + side = beside) and as for pronouns ... look at all those failed "gender-neutral" ones (only partly because after all we already have "they").

  6. Well some impressive scores there.

    The game is indeed a good reminder that the bulk of our language is mortar.

  7. It can also be a sign of how attitudes or thoughts about language change. For example, after stalling out about a minute or two in, I thought myself pretty clever when I decided to try "like," which was on the list. Then, after running out of ideas, I would look at what I'd already picked to see if it suggested any similar choices. I couldn't believe when I saw the answers that I'd forgotten "as." "Like" didn't occur to me in its metaphorical sense, only in its filler sense.

  8. *you can play it more than once if you're a bad memorizer, and you wait long enough between bouts.

    Like me.


Thanks for reaching out.

You can also contact me at wishydig[at]gmail[d0t]com.