9,530 Words

Earlier today I wondered how many distinct words I've used in posts on this site this year so hammered out a quick 7-line SQL query and asked the database. 57.7 milliseconds later I had my answer: 9,530 words1. Depending on who you ask, this is almost half the number of words a native English speaker has in their active vocabulary. If I include everything that I've published to this site this year, then there will be 14,139 distinct words found across 5,376 posts … and there are still more than three months remaining in the year.

SELECT po.`type`, COUNT(DISTINCT ps.`word`) as `words`, COUNT(DISTINCT po.`id`) as `posts`
  FROM `PostSearch` ps INNER JOIN `Post` po ON ps.`post_id` = po.`id`
                       INNER JOIN `Persona` pa ON po.`persona_id` = pa.`id`
 WHERE ps.`is_deleted` = 'N' and po.`is_deleted` = 'N' and pa.`name` = 'matigo'
   and po.`publish_at` >= '2019-01-01 00:00:00'
 GROUP BY po.`type`
 ORDER BY `posts` DESC;

The question of how many distinct words I've used online came up after struggling to think of a synonym for the word anachronistic in a work-related email. There was a time not so long ago when I could have easily gone through a list of possible substitutes for this as one of the few pleasures I have with corporate communications is using atypical language to encourage a readership. If I'm sending an email at work, it's because there is something that must be communicated. Sure, some of these messages may come across as a soliloquy bordering on the absurd, particularly when I'm trying to make a point about the importance of practicing what is preached, but I tend to think pretty hard about whether I should send a message as the medium has a rather high cost involved: I must dedicate the time to write something that is more formal than a sentence or two on Slack or Teams, and others must dedicate the time to read the multi-paragraph document2. Lately, however, my language skills appear to be deteriorating. Is it because I'm rarely speaking English with other adults now?

One of the many features that I appreciate in Apple's mobile and desktop operating systems is the ability to quickly look up words and find their definition. This is something I generally rely on when reading Japanese websites and run into some kanji that I don't recognize. The last few months I've found myself toggling the feature to use the built-in thesaurus while composing emails. Heck, I even use it when writing blog posts now. It's as though I'm forgetting how to communicate with nuance … not that I've ever been very good at it.

Using "Look Up" in macOS

This disappoints me.

The point of having a large vocabulary is to both understand and be understood. Using specific and accurate language allows a person to convey precisely what needs to be communicated. Simpler, less sophisticated language, while more easily digestible, can lead to miscommunications and lost time.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to head into the office once or twice a week after the boy starts school so that I can interact with peers again.


  1. This unfortunately includes things that are not words, such as numbers.

  2. Most of the emails I send at work consist of at least three paragraphs … and I mean paragraphs. These generally contain 100+ words each and provide context to whatever it is I'm saying. Providing context is really important at the day job, as there are just too many people juggling too many things and forgetting details. I really dislike writing a short message and getting a response back after a day that is on a matter completely unrelated to the task at hand.