How’s your Vocabulary?

rogersgeorge on August 1st, 2016

I aim to post every other day, on odd-numbered days, and sometimes I take a “vacation” on the first of the month when the previous month ends in an odd number. But my brother sent me a link to something fun, and mentioning it is easy enough that I’m posting it on the first of August, the day after July 31.

It claims to be a vocabulary test, and it probably is, though it tells you a vocabulary size “accurate” to five digits, and your percentile score accurate to hundredths of a percent. Those numbers are probably unrealistically precise. But the test itself seems reasonable, and it was fun.

The website itself looks like a good time-waster. It’s a lot of made-up tests. I’d be a little bit suspicious that they collect some data from their visitors.

Okay, I scored in the top 0.12% with a vocabulary of 29975. I invite you to post your score in the comments.

P.S. I mentioned dubious numerical precision in the second paragraph. Here’s an article about the opposite—indefinite hyperbolic numerals. Numbers such as “zillion.”

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Interesting chart

rogersgeorge on February 4th, 2014

This doesn’t have much to do with writing, but it’s about language and it’s interesting.

The chart shows the relations among European languages based on shared vocabulary. The usual way of relating languages is by etymology. Note that Finno-Ugric is on the chart. Finno-Ugric is a language family unrelated to Indo-European (the language family that includes English), but it’s on the chart because being in Europe, the two families managed to share some words. Finno-Ugric means Finnish and Hungarian, by the way. It turns out that way back when there was a large migration of people from the area that’s now Hungary into Finland. And that’s why Finnish names sound so strange. Interesting, eh? (Celtic is a separate language family too, but everybody’s heard of that.)



My thanks to Vitaliy Kaurov for the chart.




Who are your readers?

rogersgeorge on October 23rd, 2011

I don’t generally quote others because what they say is good. I prefer to quote mistakes. But I ran into something the other day that is so good, and so in line with one of my guiding principles, that I have to share it. My humblest thanks to astronomer and writer Phil Plait, and to the American Geophysical Union, where he got this table.  Phil’s article (click his link) is particularly worth reading. He also mentions the original source, an article by Richard C. J. Somerville and Susan Joy Hassol, from the October 2011 issue of Physics Today.

The guiding principle is that you must write for your readership. Before you publish, have an idea of your readers’ knowledge of the subject you’re writing about, and  understand what stake they have in your content; in other words, work at figuring out what they know coming in, and what you want them to take away.  This means, among other things, that you should reflect on your use of specialized words—either define or don’t use vocabulary that your readers might get wrong.

Without further ado:

Click twice to see it full size. Print this and tape it to your wall if you're not a scientist and you read things about science.

Teacher and Teachee?

rogersgeorge on August 23rd, 2009

Yes, we borrow from the Latin on some pairs of words, such as employer and employee, and grantor and grantee, but most of the time we don’t. We have parent/child, husband/wife, giver/recipient, boss/underling, master/apprentice (or slave). You can come up with your own list, and I invite you to do so in the comments. So what about “mentor”?

It’s not mentor and mentee! (Mentee sounds like a sea creature that used to be mistaken for mermaids.) The correct term is protegé (accent optional in English). You pronounce it “prota-zhay.” This one we borrow from the French, and leave Latin to its dusty spot on the bookshelf.

We borrow from the Greek, too— “Mentor” is an eponym. It’s the name of Odysseus’ teacher. Remember the Odyssey? That guy. Mentor was an old, wise fellow, who was instrumental in saving Odysseus’ marriage. It’s an interesting story.

One last tip: to get that high-class accented “e,” hold down the Alt key while you type 0233 on the numeric keypad. Then lift the Alt key and “é” appears.

How simple is too simple?

rogersgeorge on August 13th, 2009

Lots of folks like to use big words. That’s okay, but you have to use them right, or those in the know will snicker at you ro roll their eyes. And those not in the know will be led astray.

Today’s sin is choosing the wrong, longer word:

Simple—not complicated. Easy to describe or do. You know what simple means.

Simplistic—oversimplified, hence incorrect. Not enough detail to be useful. “‘Nuke ’em till they glow’ is a simplistic solution to the Middle East problem.”

So don’t use “simplistic” when you mean “simple.” Short words are okay—they’re simpler.