February 21, 2008


According to the Chicago Tribune, Paul Payack is still peddling his nonsense about a rigorous census of the words in English that is approaching one million. He has a "a series of mathematical formulas" that he uses, it says (ooh! math!), yet it seems from the story that he personally checks each word (bagonize meaning "agonize while waiting for one's bags at the airport" is in; but nakation meaning "naked vacation" is not, and he makes those calls). Meanwhile, over at Slate, they have invented a widget that makes up new puns on Barack Obama's name, creating a lexical obamarama of vocabarackabulary. I have a very simple and obvious suggestion. Just plug Slate's vocabulabama into Payack's mathematical formularama and let it make up as many new words as Payack needs to hit the million. Who cares about the real size of the English vocabulary? Payack's project is publicizing himself. Slate's project is publicizing itself. But the two can work together. As always in cases of numerical vocabulary assessment for popular consumption, you can just make stuff up. Meaningless silly words for a meaningless silly word census. They'd be perfect together.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at February 21, 2008 03:22 AM