Word Traveler: Word Trivia

This feature is for all word lovers as well as those studying for the SAT and seeking to learn new vocabulary.

  • a lazy person's set of epithets: drotchel, drumble, affler, loblolly, lollard, lollpoop, scobberlotcher, ragabash, faineant, and flutch
  • a special word is used for the cry, call, or sound of many animals: apes gibber; asses bray; bears growl; beetles drone; bulls bellow; calves, sheep, and lambs bleat; cocks crow and crows caw; cows and oxen low; deer bell; eagles, vultures, hawks, and peacocks scream; falcons chant; guinea pigs and hares squeak; ravens croak; sparrows chirp; swallows twitter
  • almost all of the hundred most common words in our modern vocabulary come from Old English and three are from Old Norse (their, them, they)
  • Arabic-derived words related to plants are: couscous, lilac, henna, apricot, coffee, spinach, cork, artichoke, tarragon, cotton, carob, jasmine, lime, caraway, lemon, tamarind, orange, loofah, aubergine, alfalfa, hashish, camphor, saffron
  • at least half of the words in any sample of modern English writing will be of Anglo-Saxon origin
  • Benjamin Franklin drew up the first list of 228 American slang terms for drunkenness
  • between 1500-1650, about 10,000-12,000 words were coined, of which about half still exist
  • black, white, red, yellow, and green are Anglo-Saxon in origin, but blue, brown, orange, and violet entered English via Norman French
  • by a child's second birthday, he/she is hoovering up new words at a rate of one every two hours
  • by the time children enter school, they command 13,000 words; a typical high school graduate knows 60,000 - a literate adult, twice that
  • capitals that look the same in lowercase are: C, O, P, S, U, V, W, X, Z
  • Charles A. Dana of the New York Sun was credited with inventing zowie, bam, socko, yurp, plop, wow, wam, glug, oof, whap, bing, flooie, and grrr
  • cloud, draft, hail, rain, sleet, snow, storm, wind, and flood are all traceable to Germanic
  • coined by Shakespeare (to name a few): alligator, dawn, lonely, drug, eyeball, undress, puke, domineering, inaudible, pander, amazement, leapfrog, bedroom, hint, submerge
  • colors seem to have gotten their names in this order: black, white, red, yellow, green, blue, brown, purple, pink, orange, gray
  • drink/drench, sit/set, lie/lay, fall/fell are pairs where one verb comes from a prehistoric Germanic causative
  • English is a much harder language for computers to understand than Japanese or Italian or Spanish due to inconsistency in the way words sound and are spelled - and the fact that some verbs may be nouns and vice versa, identifiable only by their position in a sentence. There is also the complexity of English idioms.
  • English is the only language that has books of synonyms like Roget's thesaurus
  • English often incorporated the same word from two languages with slightly different spellings
  • English speakers can recognize a word in 200 milliseconds or less from its onset, i.e. approximately one-fifth of a second from its beginning (usually well before the whole word has been heard)
  • English words of Latin or Greek origin have rather unpredictable plurals, and each one usually depends on how well-established that particular word is; it may also depend on whether the Latin or Greek form of the plural is either easily recognizable or pleasant to the speaker of English
  • eponyms from inventors are: biro, Braille, bunsen, Celsius, derrick, diesel, Fahrenheit, galvanize, guillotine, joule, Morse, ohm, pasteurize, pavlovian, Richter, salmonella, saxophone, silhouette, volt, watt, zeppelin
  • every time you open a newspaper, you will be faced with at least one word with un- that you have never seen before, one with -ness, and one with -ly
  • fifty words account for 50 percent of all the words in our speech - and they all have only one syllable
  • Humpty Dumpty said that we are the masters and words are our servants
  • if you notice in etymologies that some German words are capitalized, it is because they are nouns
  • if you speak English, you know parts of at least a hundred different languages
  • in English, only J, O, V, and Y cannot be silent
  • in the 16th century, there was a fashion to make spellings reflect word history - so if a word originated in Latin or Greek, letters might be added to show the relationship: g was added to reign since it was from Latin regno, b was added to debt to show it came from Latin debitum
  • it has been said that just 43 words account for fully half of all the words in common use and that just nine account for fully one-quarter of all the words in almost any sample of written English: and, be, have, it, of, the, to, will, you
  • it takes the brain about 1/4 of a second to find a word to name an object
  • it took Noah Webster 20 years to write his dictionary
  • Japan has four written languages and one spoken language
  • language is the cheapest way of expressing identity
  • less than three percent of Old English is loan words from other languages
  • letters that can be written in one stroke: B, C, D, G, I, J, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, U, V, W, Z
  • letters with no enclosed areas: C, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z
  • many scientific and technical adjectives are Latinate (canine, cardiac) while the nouns are Old English or Middle English (dog, heart)
  • many words for animals come from Old English and some of these had no special plural or lost it during the Old English period
  • Mary Anning was a young paleontologist who is commonly held to be the source of the famous tongue twister 'she sells sea shells on the seashore'
  • more than half of all the words adopted into English from Latin now have meanings quite different from their original ones
  • most of our specifically American spelling rules came from Noah Webster
  • most of the English archaisms surviving in America seem to be derived from the dialects of eastern and southern England, from which most of the original English settlers came
  • names starting out with Fitz come from a word meaning 'son' no Chinese last names are more than one syllable long
  • number-plus-word nouns generally take a hyphen: six-pack, nine-iron, eight-ball
  • only 1,000 words make up 90 percent of all writing
  • only about 4,500 Old English words survived - which is only about one percent of the total in the Oxford English Dictionary
  • only four English words end in -dous: tremendous, horrendous, stupendous, and hazardous
  • only the letters 'a' and 'g' have two modern print lowercase forms; every other letter has just one essentially the same for all typefaces
  • some Anglo-Saxon nouns have an Anglo-Saxon adjective as well as a Latinate adjective: earth/earthly/terrestrial, mother/motherly/maternal, time/timely/temporal
  • our extraordinarily complex language is built on forty-four distinctive sounds that combine into hundreds and thousands of meaningful word elements
  • over 1000 languages have contributed to modern English
  • paired words from Latin and Greek include compassion - sympathy, transparent - diaphanous, revelation - apocalypse
  • quantifying the meanings of common words, the American scholar GK Zipf said, "Different meanings of a word will tend to be equal to the square root of its relative frequency."
  • redundancies include: added bonus, closed fist, spoiled rotten, revert back, prior history, sum total, end result, true fact, bare naked, unique individual, total abstinence, join together, advance warning, lag behind, close proximity, exact same, exact replica, add on to, betwixt and between, bits and pieces, brand name, close proximity, fine and dandy, free gift, future plans, head honcho, great big, ISBN number, leave of absence, look and see, manual dexterity, name brand, old geezer, past experience, personal friend, pick and choose, PIN number, plan ahead, prior notice, quagmire (marsh marsh), reindeer (reindeer deer), reiterate, rice paddy, rules and regulations, scheduled appointment, skin rash, so on and so forth, temper tantrum, time clock, time period, unexpected surprise, up above, vast majority, VIN number, whys and wherefores, wrack and ruin, young child
  • rule of thumb: if you think a punctuation mark is needed, then it probably is!
  • Seize each new word as if it was a shining toy! The more words you read, the more words you will know.
  • seventy percent of all English words are made with 10 letters: A, D, E, H, I, N, O, R, S, T
  • some collective terms are: a drift of bees, a cloud of flies, a dissimulation of small birds
  • some common words derived from Arabic: alcohol, rook, algebra, sequin, mattress, giraffe, amber, crimson, gazelle, hazard, arsenal, lute, sofa, zero, alcove, safari, sherbert, alkali, candy, syrup, check, admiral, magazine
  • some paired words from Old English and Latin are shepherd - pastor, feeling - sentiment, handbook - manual, anger - ire, freedom - liberty
  • some words with the most senses in dictionaries are: set, take, through, strike, serve, run, draw, cut, cast, point
  • some words with vowels in alphabetical order: affectiously, half-seriously, pareciously
  • sometimes an old meaning is preserved in a phrase or expression: neck meaning 'a parcel of land' is retained in neck of the woods
  • strictly speaking, only adverbs modify; nouns and adjectives qualify
  • synonyms for an easy college course are: pud, crip course, crip, easy A, sleep course, cruise course, fluff, bluff, punt, or skate
  • technical matters have the highest concentration of borrowed classical (Greek and Latin) vocabulary
  • ten English nouns have two u's: continuum, duumvir, duumvirate, individuum, lituus, menstruum, mutuum, muumuu, residuum, vacuum
  • the 50 U.S. states derive their names from six basic sources: 28 from Native American languages, 11 from English, 6 from Spanish, three from French, one from Dutch, and one for the Father of this Country
  • the ancients divided a play into protasis, epitasis, catastasis, and catastrophe - introduction, continuance, heightening, and conclusion
  • the birds that can imitate human speech are the budgerigar, mynah, and parrot
  • "The Cat in the Hat" has 220 'words'
  • the don't in the DONT WALK sign is usually misspelled, since the apostrophe is missing
  • the dot over the lowercase i is derived from a diacritical mark, like an accent mark, used in Latin to indicate 'i' in places where it might be mistaken for part of another letter; this is also why English has the rule that i is not the final letter of a word but must be changed to y
  • the earliest Americanisms were probably words borrowed from Native American languages for natural objects that had no counterparts in England
  • the earliest known use of any punctuation is credited to Aristophanes of Byzantium (the librarian of Alexandria) c 200 BC
  • the first Spanish loanwords in American English were mainly Spanish adaptations of Native American terms: tobacco, hammock, tomato, tapioca, chocolate, barbecue, canoe
  • the five most frequently used letters in English are e, t, o, a, n and the five least frequently used are k, j, x, z, q
  • the five most persuasive words in English are said to be: discover, easy, guarantee, health, and results
  • the Hawaiian alphabet has only 12 letters - the shortest alphabet in the world: A, E, I, O, U and H, K, L, M, N, P, W. Until the 1820s, it was only a spoken language and now it is nearly extinct
  • the 'L' is not pronounced in almond, alms, balm, calm, palm, psalm, qualm, and salmon in much of standard English, except New England
  • the more words you know, the more choices you can make; the more accurate, vivid, and varied your speaking and writing will be
  • the richness of the English vocabulary and the wealth of available synonyms means that English speakers can often draw shades of distinction unavailable to non-English speakers
  • the speed of 'normal' speech is about six syllables a second (about three or more words)
  • the surviving words from Anglo-Saxon are among the most fundamental words in English: man, wife, child, brother, sister, live, fight, love, drink, sleep, eat, house, etc. - as well as: and, at, but, for, in, on, to
  • the top ten most common verbs in English are - be, have, do, say, make, go, take, come, see, get - and they are all irregular
  • the words spelled with most short lowercase letters include curvaceousness, necromancers, reassurances
  • the words spelled with most tall lowercase letters include highlight and hillbilly there are 40-odd common prefixes and suffixes in English
  • there are 96 'official' two-letter word playable in Scrabble, from aa to yo there are five vowel letters but 20 shades of vowel sounds
  • there are many sets of triplet synonyms from Anglo-Saxon/Latin/Greek and also Anglo-Saxon/Norman French/Latin-Greek like cool-calm-collected and foretell-predict-prophesy
  • there are many words for one's behind, including: peach, fundament, spankit, prat, dowp, bubble, quoit, croupon, bahakas, hinderlings, nates, rusty-dusty, and sit-upon
  • there are no irregular verbs in Esperanto
  • there are ten body parts with three letters: leg, ear, rib, arm, hip, gum, eye, jaw, toe, lip
  • there are words that rhyme with purple (hirple, curple), orange (Blorenge, sporange), and silver (wilver, chilver); these words all have half rhymes (also known as 'imperfect rhyme' or 'near rhyme')
  • there is a statistic that only one percent of all "new" words are, in fact, entirely new; the vast majority of neologisms are new takes on the old
  • there is a tendency in English to adopt a foreign adjective form for an Anglo-Saxon noun, so fingers are not fingerish but digital, eyes are ocular not eyeish - and other such pairs are mouth/oral, book/literary, water/aquatic, house/domestic, moon/lunar, son/filial, sun/solar, church/ecclesiastical, town/urban
  • these letters have no curved lines: A, E, F, H, I, K, L, M, N, T, V, W, X, Y, Z
  • these letters have no straight lines: C, O, S
  • these letters look the same upside-down: H, I, N, O, S, X, Z
  • these words are rarely used in the singular: trivia, paparazzi, auspices, timpani, minutiae, graffiti, scampi, scruples, measles
  • three common words start with dw: dwarf, dwell, dwindle vet was clipped from veterinarian and also from veteran; van, clipped from caravan; cab from cabriolet, exam from examination, fan from fanatic, pants from pantaloons, brig from brigantine, canter from Canterbury gallop
  • when a verb does not agree in number with the subject, that is because it has been 'attracted' to the noun closest to it in the phrase and agrees with that noun instead of the subject
  • words back-formed from their apparent opposites include couth from uncouth, kempt from unkempt, ept from inept
  • words can be alphabetized two ways - word-by-word or letter-by-letter; in the former, a shorter word will precede all others beginning with the same letters even if the word is followed by another word-and in the latter all letters are taken as a sequence with hyphens and spaces ignored
  • words ending in -cracy, -crat, and -cratic come from Greek kratos 'power, dominion'
  • words with a, e, i, o, u once in alphabetical order are abstemious, abstentious, annelidous, arsenious, casesious, fracedinous, and facetious
  • you can lowercase the shared common noun element in phrases like Third and Main street and the Justice and Labor departments






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