The American language has 171,476 words according to the Oxford English Dictionary; or a million if you prefer to reference Quora.
It’s not easy getting a straight answer these days. And I’m not talking the usual suspects (politicians, broadcasters, advertisers).
The Oxford English Dictionary was begun in 1884; Oxford University Press in London is preparing its third edition. There are 10 volumes in the first, with two added in a supplementary edition, and 20 volumes in the second edition. The third edition will be online only. I could find no bad or good opinions of the OED, just that it is used extensively and has been since the late 19th century. Quora started in 2009, online, and is both loved and hated, according to web searches, one of which is titled “Why You Should Never, Ever Use Quora” by Waxy.org. (Too long and complicated for this brief article, but you can look it up easily enough.)
The two best things about the OED are important, fun and interesting: it gives first usage of the word; it includes the quote where the word was first used.
I don’t think Quora does this, although it gets into a discussion about how to define the word a and the word definition. The answers and questions come from subscribers.
Words have been entertaining me and annoying me since I first remember Dad reading to my sister and me. We followed along with him and in no time at all were not just following but reading with him. My sis became confused when she saw how Dad said the word yacht.
“Isn’t it ‘yeah-chit’, Dad?” The next year, as I caught up with my sister’s reading abilities, I got to ask why depot wasn’t “dee-pot.” Dad explained, but I still insisted: “It says “p.o.t., Dad.”
Little kids really do say the darndest things – “pretty school” for preschool; “trocious” for atrotious; “Joseph took Mary and the flea into….”
Our younger sister taught us that the phrase “a figment of my imagination” could be said “a pigment of my fig newton.” I thought for years she made it up, and I was even envious of her use of words, but when I finally mentioned it she said she heard it somewhere. I’ve always wished I’d said it. Brilliant malaprop. Almost as good as “Mardon me, Padam, but you’re occupewing my pie.”
It’s not merely kids who mispronounce. I had a writer friend who seldom looked up words, so she often mispronounced them, especially at Writers Group. We laughed a lot when she said “pre-juiced” for prejudiced, and “myzelled” for misled. She never took offense. She knew that she pleased us so much we waited for her mispronunciations (“mispronounciations”). The last one I can remember her saying was “grr-ble” for gerbil, which delighted us.
“Well, you say ‘Gerber’ for baby food,” she said. “Who would have thought I shouldn’t be calling my pet a ‘GRRR bull?’”
“Didn’t anyone ever correct you?” I asked.
“I guess not,” she said.
I‘m always impressed by foreigners to the States who speak our language so beautifully. I don’t know how anyone learns this language, as every other word breaks a rule, and every third word comes from some other country. Then we are the ones mispronouncing our adopted Milan and Pisa, Genoa and gyro, not to forget bouillabaisse. Mylen, we say; and Piza and Gen O ah. We do not say Ne vay duh nor Ne vah duh, just Ne vä da. I have heard Americans say “akee-èsta” rather than aqui está.
Many of us say to non-English speakers, “You’re in America! Just speak American!” About as rude as one can get. We are the only industrialized country that does not insist on our students learning a foreign language. The condescension annoys. Much of the world, industrialized or developing, speaks English.
Everyone or their families, except native Americans, came from a different country. When is it that all of us immigrants or descendants think we can start dissing other countries and saying, “America has the best . . . everything”? It is another antagonizing mystery to me, along with my childhood “de pot.” It does say p.o.t. And what’s wrong with “welcome to America”?
Do the previous arrivals have to strut around with the “I was here first” brag? Ah, we humans, scared of everything.