Tuesday, March 14, 2006

English words I didn't know existed

Sometimes I find myself in the embarrassing situation of not knowing an English word a student uses in class. It happened today with the word "dint". The student was summarizing an article he had just read, so I had no reason to believe that it was a product of his imgination or a mis-pronunciation. And there it was in the dictionary. Oops. Well I can't be expected to know every word in the English language, can I? According to Websters online, the Rosetta edition, this word gets used 73 times in a sample of 100 million words, and is thus ranked 73000. As I have a vocabulary of around 12000 words (I've never tried to count them, but that's the average for most people), it's easy to see why I don't know this word.
Compare these statistics for the word I would have used instead of dint: "means". "By means of" is used to express how a result is achieved, the same as "by dint of". Except I've never heard anyone say "by dint of". "Means is ranked 963 as a noun, which is well within my vocabulary limitations!
Try the Webster's website to see for yourself how often a word is used before adding it to your active vocabulary.

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