Query: How Many English Words?

Pafra & Scott Catledge scplc at GS.VERIO.NET
Thu Nov 18 14:42:41 UTC 1999

There can be no answer other than a broad estimate.  How many words in the
OED has no clear answer; how many entries in Webster's Third International
still requires a definition.  Major headings or all the subentries?  I was
told in Elementary school that the word 'run' has 700 meanings in English;
if true, is 'run' one word or 700?  When words become obsolete, are they
still words?  When a dictionary publisher states that 3,000 or 300,000 words
are included, I take that number to mean 3,000 or 300,000 main entries?  And
that bis not the question or is it?  Any dictionary publisher can include
only a sample (high ever high a percentage that sample might represent) of
the word population at a snapshot in time.  If we can define word as "main
entry" in a dictionary and specify whether obsolete and dialectical forms
are included, perhaps we could reach a consensus, but I doubt that we could
or would.  There is no clear answer among linguists as to how many languages
are spoken; obtaining unanimity on how many "words" are in a particular
language is even more doubtful.  I look forward to comments.  Scott Catledge
Sent: Wednesday, November 17, 1999 8:02 PM
Subject: Query: How Many English Words?

> This is  a broad query, but the broad spectrum of answers might be
> Dictionary editors? Everyone? Please reply to the sender, although replies
to the list
> would be interesting, too.
> How many words are there in the English language?
> Dana Nagler
> dnagler at forbes.com

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