Wild World of Words

Wild World of Words

July 12, 2020

Maybe you’re happy today. Or cheerful, or joyful, or delighted, or giddy. All those words pretty much mean “happy.” In fact, we have lots of words for lots of things. So our friend William B. asked, how many words are there in the world? Well, the Merriam Webster dictionary people say English alone has about 1 million words. But it could really be anywhere from 750,000 to 1,250,000. After all, which words do we count? “Square” can mean “4-sided shape,” or “complete” (a square meal), or “uncool” (it’s hip to be square). It can mean 24 different things, but do those count as 24 words or just 1? And that’s just English. Now multiply all that by the 700+ major world languages, and you have all the words you’ll ever need.

Wee ones: If you say “I am really happy today,” how many words do you say?

Little kids: If you say “I am really, really hungry,” how many different words do you say?  Bonus: If you add on 3 more reallys, how many words have you said in total?

Big kids: We say about 5,000 words a day. If you made sure they were all different, how many could you say in a 2-day weekend?  Bonus: 700 out of the 7,000 languages are spoken by at least 100,000 people. How many languages are spoken by fewer? (Hint if needed: Think of 7,000 as “70 hundred.”)

The sky’s the limit: If you’re trying to learn all 1 million (1,000,000) English words and you’ve learned all but 1, how many words have you learned?











Wee ones: 5 words.

Little kids: 4 unique words: I, am, really, hungry.  Bonus: 8 words, since you said 5 words in total before.

Big kids: 10,000 words.  Bonus: 6,300 languages.

The sky’s the limit: 999,999 words.

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About the Author

Laura Overdeck

Laura Overdeck

Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.

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