How Many Words Are In The English Language?

Two weeks ago I wrote about how the word selfie was named the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2013.

Being named Word of the Year has got to be a big deal for a word, especially when you consider it was up against such great words like, snollygoster, flibbertigibbet and gobbledygook.

The more I thought about that, the more I started wondering about the number of words selfie must have been competing with.

Being named Word of the Year is much different from an award like NBA Coach of the Year where only 30 choices are up for the honor.

There has got to be thousands of words that exist in the English language. If not millions. Whatever the number, I know it is at least more that 30, right?

That is what I am wondering today…how many words can be found in the English language?

According to Oxford Dictionaries, that is not a simple question to answer. Here’s what they say:

“It’s impossible to count the number of words in a language, because it’s so hard to decide what actually counts as a word. Is dog one word, or two (a noun meaning ‘a kind of animal’, and a verb meaning ‘to follow persistently’)? If we count it as two, then do we count inflections separately too (e.g. dogs = plural noun, dogs = present tense of the verb). Is dog-tired a word, or just two other words joined together? Is hot dog really two words, since it might also be written as hot-dog or even hotdog?”

Oxford goes on to explain that the Second Edition of the 20-volume  Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words.

So while we might not know an exact number of words, we can clearly say that it is over 200,000. That is a lot of words.

I guess that is why word of the day calendars never go extinct.

Another interesting story I found says that a new word is created every 98 minutes, which equals about 14.7 words per day.

I find that fascinating.

Who creates these new words every 98 minutes? And who accepts that they are actual words and not just gobbledygook?

I think we all should get to create a new word.

If anyone has a fun new word they would like to create, let me know in the comment section below. Be sure to include the definition so that we can learn what it means.

(Side note, how many of you looked up snollygoster & flibbertigibbet to see if they were real words or not??)


This week, Oxford Dictionaries announced their 2013 Word of the Year. And the winner is…


Defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website,” selfie joins other top words such as “gif” and “omnishambles” as Words of the Year.

Upon reading about selfie’s honor, I wondered to myself, “out of all the words in the English language, how does Oxford decide which one is the Word of the Year?” Seems like a decision that should not be taken lightly.

My guess is that they pick a word that is trendy or popular in order to gain some publicity for their dictionary. Given that “twerk” and “bitcoin” were finalists for Word of the Year, I think my guess is probably accurate. That being said, there is nothing wrong with using a word like selfie to gain a little exposure (don’t tell anyone, but that is what I am trying to do with this post).

Besides picking a popular word, how exactly does Oxford decide which word deserves the honor of Word of the Year?

According to Oxford Dictionaries’ blog the Word of the Year is ultimately chosen by a team lexicographers, dictionary consultants, and editorial, marketing, and publicity staff at Oxford Dictionaries. Software helps determine the initial contenders by scanning a database of around 150 million words used online each month for new trends and frequency of use.

“We can see a phenomenal upward trend in the use of ‘selfie’ in 2013, and this helped to cement its selection as Word of the Year,” Oxford Dictionaries Editorial Director Judy Pearsall said in a press release.

I don’t know what lexicographers or dictionary consultants are, but Oxford Dictionaries seems to have a sound process in picking the Word of the Year. If I understand it correctly, the Word of the Year doesn’t have to be a trendy word, just one that has asserted “some kind of prominence.”

Reading all this leaves me with just two more questions…

First off, why do they pick the Word of the Year now? Last I checked there is still over a month left in the year. What’s the rush Oxford?

And my second question…is a selfie really a selfie if there is more than one person in the picture?

If you look at the selfie slide show on CNN you will see that many of the pictures are of two or more people.  I thought a selfie was a picture “one has taken of oneself.” Wouldn’t a picture that you take of yourself and others be called a “weie” or an “usie”, or just a normal picture?

I guess those questions will just have to wait until another Wonder Why Wednesday.