Monday, 17 August 2015

500 posts

Fence posts, Carn Dearg
photo: Nigel Corby 
This is my 500th post on this blog, so I was curious as to how many words I have written here. Fortunately, there is an online counter for this sort of thing (Web Word Count) and you only have to enter the URL to get emailed the results a few minutes later. It turns out that the blog had 371,082 words. That is roughly the size of three average non-fiction books or six novels in the mystery genre. Had I decided to write the latter, and had average success with selling them, my income from writing would equal that of my current pensions. There are far too many "ifs" in this scenario for me to consider becoming a full time novelist and I have never written a mystery novel anyway. My only novel was set in the Neolithic, hardly a popular setting for novels.

An added bonus that I did not expect from the site was that it also gives the number of unique words, so now I know that my active (written) vocabulary is 25,012 words. This realization is both gratifying and alarming. Being a person who believes that the only true synonyms in English are gorse and furze, I do like to pick the right word for the job, and the common improper usage of such words as "myth" and "enormity" annoys me. On the negative side, this means that I will use words that might be unfamiliar to many readers. If the word is mainly specific to a certain discipline, I usually give the Wikipedia link, or something better if I am very familiar with the topic. Being a postmodernist, I can at least take solace in the knowledge that my own postmodern writing is far more intelligible than most. Again, a link the Pomo Generator.

Wondering how my active vocabulary compared to averages, a comment on this page refers to a study reported in the Guardian in 1986 claimed that the average person's active vocabulary reaches 12,000 words at about the age of twelve and then stays at about the figure thereafter. A college graduate will have about 23,000 words, and Shakespeare holds the record in English with about 30,000 words. Looking further, I saw that there were a number of estimates and while the one reported in the Guardian is what is usually quoted, others might be preferable.

Regardless of the accuracy of any of them, my active vocabulary does not match my profile: I left school at fifteen and never attended college. I did, however, learn to read at an unusually early age, and at my insistence. I was reading kid's novels by the time I was four, and my parents lied about my age so that I could get my own library card and they would not have to keep taking me to the library. I also started school at the age of four (going on five). I found school boring and I hated it. By the time I was twelve, most of my reading had become non-fiction. At sixteen, I was a Bertrand Russell fan who had made an unusual shift to being interested in Tibetan Buddhism.

Another Guardian article suggests that seven is the best age to start reading. I strongly disagree, but learning anything is best when it is not forced and the kid is enthused. I think better advice can be found here. Read to your child a lot and try to (sneakily) enthuse them about learning to read. My late wife was a teacher and often said that education is a subversive activity. Be wary, though, that when your reading child starts school he or she is in the same class as kids with the same reading ability or the child might hate school, too. My wife was also an internationally published poet and thought that the best way to get kids to hate poetry was to teach it to them. Perhaps teaching poetry should come later, but do acclimatize very young kids to hearing children's verse. I suspect that it will have a positive effect on how well their unconscious can be accessed by their conscious mind later in life. They should become well-balanced as a result as the unconscious is compensatory to the conscious. When I was that young, neither teachers nor parents seemed to know anything about this stuff, and also appeared not have heard of tutors, either: I did horribly in mathematics partly because I was sick at some crucial times and never caught up. My junior school's headmistress (whose character might have been invented by Roald Dahl) thought that giving me unintelligible arithmetic quizzes as a form of punishment would be a good plan. She should have stuck with the cane, it would have been less damaging.

How long the blog will continue, I cannot say. I never even imagined writing 500 posts. Tomorrow, a large Durotriges settlement has been discovered and I will have something new to say about it.


  1. John;

    Congratulations on this remarkable milestone and on the enlightenment those words have created.

    1. Thank you, Wayne, much appreciated.

      All the best,