Vocabulary tally

Rick Barr rickbarremail at GMAIL.COM
Mon May 31 17:28:39 UTC 2010

"Ever listen to teens talk? Here, I'll do the math for you: Two kids on the
phone for an hour burns no more than 100 vocabulary words, tops, with these
terms most used: *I go*, *he goes*,* like*, *and*, *so not cool*. Boring."
This is writer James V. Smith, Jr. on page 45 of a 2006 book called "The
Writer's Little Helper."

I've often heard some form of this as a jeremiad about young people's
vocabulary. I also heard it recently from one who should know, a grammarian
who calculated young people's vocabulary at 1,000 words (including passive
vocabulary). I find this very hard to believe, no matter how impoverished we
assume a young person's vocabulary to be in light of formal, standard
English. In this 1,000 word count, slang and nuanced uses must be
overlooked. But my skepticism is anecdotal, not statistical. Does anyone
know of relevant specialized literature that either confirms or denies these

I'm sorry if this has come up before, but I couldn't track it down in the

-- Rick

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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