You write "At times it’s been attributed to Gallup polls or even entomologists. "

What would bug scientists know about the matter? I’d think you’d made a mistake, except that you are omniscient, so I suppose you must be testing us.

No, no, no!

Link to column: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/070907.html

"Despite being plainly absurd, your factoid has appeared in newspapers, magazines, and even science journals, each typically citing other such appearances as backup. At times it’s been attributed to Gallup polls or even entomologists. "

This is subtlelty people–you put the stealth funny out there, but you don’t point a giant glowing finger at it. It is much better when you get to think how smart you are by “discovering” it.

BTW, what’s the proper factoid about Latin v. English vocab? Didn’t Cicero and those other old toga-wearing dudes have only about xx% of the vocab words of modern English (not counting words they had to make up to translate Pooh and Harry Potter into it, I mean)?

I get it. Heh. And I are a gud English speeker.

This was a really good column. Top shelf.

It did, however, cause me to retrace my day’s browsing - I was sure I’d seen someone use the word desuetude on 7/9/07. Sure enough, it was in Gideon Haigh’s Shorter, simpler, sillier. In a further coincidence, I read Cecil’s column whilst eating a sandwich containing (rutabaga-heavy) Branston pickle.

Damn. All these years my mind has been seeing that word as dis-use-itude. Which fits the meaning well enough, I guess, but is still embarassing. Maybe I can pretend that that was the word being used? Any chance of that flying?

Classical Latin and Hebrew are, in fact, noted for their unusually small vocabularies (in the case of Hebrew, of course, it’s partly because the corpus is so small and specialized), and English for its unusually large one.

Still can’t help thinking that people are getting dumber, though.

Latin does indeed have a small vocabulary, even more stunning when you remember the wordsmithing Greeks were right next door. Still, a large percenage of English words are derived from Latin (many via other Romance languages), which is why I was able to recognize desuetude (de- +suetus) without ever recalling having seen it in print before…

I have a theory that this is because as you age the average age of the general population remains more or less the same, so you’re knowledge-base draws from a larger time period than that of the average person as you age. In short, you’re getting smarter (at least as to basic recall of facts), but the “average” person remains at the same intelligence.
BTW, let me echo that this is one of the best articles I’ve seen from Cecil in a while; a general-enough question involving research beyond a Google search, not to mention entertaining all the way thru. Four stars.

I was thinking the same thing – a real bang up job. Also liked seeing Harper’s, the official magazine of the pseudo-intellectual, being shown how fact-checking works.

I think this is a double-plus good idea. “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

Good article, and, yes, very subtle humor. Entomologists indeed. <chuckle>

Well, in fact, Cecil said entomologists and that’s what he meant. It was a goof on the part of a distinguished newspaper, but apparently they attributed some vocabulary statistics to a guy who wrote, in fact, about fireflies.

Hey – was that the same entomologist who also dis some research and wrote a couple of books on Sexual Behavior in Humans?

So it’s funny twice. :slight_smile:

If we may cease chortling for a moment, I agree that the english vocabulary could stand some paring. On the other hand, we are deficient in ways. There are times that I’m at a loss for words. A couple examples;
Suppose I’m ambivalent (itself not very apt) about something. I don’t care one way or the other. I can’t find a casual word to express that indifference. “I don’t like opera” implies dislike, which isn’t true. Same for sports. It’s there is all. It keeps people off the streets, I guess. A single word between “love” and Hate" would be nice.
Also, the famous “he/she” conundrum. We cop out and say “they”, but that doesn’t work for only one person.
Even Cecil backed away from that one.
There are more, but I’ll stop now. I, uh, I’m not, I don’t, uh, care to continue.

What’s wrong with the word “indifferent”? Seems to me it’s an ideal word with which to express indifference.

I tried “indifferent”. I asked mangeorge “What about them Raiders?” I answered “I’m indifferent about (towards, in regard to, regarding, etc) them”. I dunno, just doesn’t seem to slide smoothly off the tongue. Not like "I hate (love) them.
It’s me, isn’t it? :dubious:

I guess. To each his own.

Sorry for abruptly changing the topic at hand people, but when Cecil wrote that “Grand Guignole” should be pronounced “Gron Geen-yole”, I have to disagree with the first part of it (Gron).

I’m a French speaker (first language) and “grand” (mute “d”) seems much closer to genuine French pronunciation than “Gron” …well, maybe with a thick parisian accent “Gron” would be closer, but as for international French I guess it would be somewhere between the two.

Oops, wrong thread sorry (I wish I could edit my post: not possible at this time).

Never mind…