254 - Words I want to know

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I have been contributing to an answer site known as Quora. A question last week was:-

“What is the name for a parent that outlives its child?”  

A child whose parents have died is called an orphan, though the age at which was is not an orphan but merely surviving longer than your parents is unclear to me. But you’re only an orphan if both parents are dead. As one respondent put it, having a child predecease you is so tragic it doesn’t have a word. The equivalent to orphan would be the still bigger disaster of outliving all your children. I have not discovered a single word for any of these events.

A second issue was that I wanted a set of words for the different forms of known vocabulary, recognising that my oral vocabulary is smaller than my aural vocabulary, which in turn is smaller than what I am prepared to write, which is smaller still than the words I accept in reading, itself of course a subset of the recognised words in English (though possibly with some exceptions such as words from other languages and long-lasting errors not yet discovered. ¹

Third, I’d like a word for the occasional word that belongs in one’s reading vocabulary that has never been used orally nor heard aurally, so one has no idea how it should be pronounced – and one has not looked it up. My daughter hit one such with Neanderthal, which she pronounced Knee and Earth’ll, capitals where the emphasis went. As opposed to nee ANN der Tarl.

So, how might one discover a word not yet known, or a word that you hope exists? One needs a reverse dictionary.  Does such a thing exist? You’d think this was an easy thing to find out. The two I found, [1] and [2] seem to list words in the thesaurus sense; approximately close, but each word is then linked (or not) to dictionary definitions. So, for example, I tried ‘words I don’t know how to pronounce’ and found eureka (as in Archimedes recognising he understands displacement of fluids) defined as (i) a town in NW California beloved of a certain tv series and (ii) a CU/Ni alloy used in resistance wires. Not helpful. Of the several words I didn’t recognise, many of those were marked as ‘hunt on the internet’, meaning ‘not in the associated dictionary' - which serves to make one wonder how the word reached inclusion in the list. Misken was one such (below the poverty line from—I think—Hebrew, also (but pronounced differently) Scottish versions of misknow, misunderstand and to pretend to not know). I do not understand why misken would be included in the list of words close to what I asked about.

There are several sorts of reverse dictionary, of which the class that I am seeking is a reverse conceptual dictionary, not the class of reverse dictionary I might use for finding crossword puzzle answers, or rhymes for some doggerel.

There isn’t a word (again, no word yet found) for words we sloppily mispronounce; Lieberry for library, yuman for human, sammidge for sandwich, noocular, not nuclear, wennsdi not wednesday, athileet for athlete, umberella not umbrella….. then there’s a load of foods, such as quinoa, chipotle and espresso. See.

Source [3] and 3A are sources for creating portmanteaux, so for example anomalous pronunciation—such as for Neanderthal—might be labelled as any of these words:unknownunciation most, because it is the most self-explanatory.


Source [4] , the English stack exchange will, like Quora, offer a solution eventually. My link shows the words currently requested.

Words—near to what I wanted—include:

 eggcorn is (word/phrase) which you misinterpret because they sound very similar and malapropism is (word/phrase) when you mistakenly use because they sound very similar. Examples; baited breath, ex-patriot, all intensive purposes, old-timers’ disease. Malapropism examples include: dance a flamingo, electrical votes    [flamenco, electoral]. ²

oronym = homophone, 

paronym = near homonym (affect/effect, wether/whether) , but there are two other distinct meanings in the OED (which I think renders it pretty useless). Paronym is polysemous, but the three meanings are sufficiently close that this is why I won’t be remembering the word.

paranym (oh dear, a paronym of paronym) A euphemistic word or phrase whose literal sense is contrary to the reality of what it refers to, used especially to disguise or misrepresent the truth about something. Brian Aldiss offers an example, that everlasting life in the New Testament, actually means death.

Lemma (lemmas, lemmata) is the headword for a set of words, so run is the lemma for the lexeme that includes run, ran, runs, running. wikipedia [6] says estimates vary from as little as 10,000 to as many as over 50,000 for young adult native speakers of English.[8][12][13][15]

One most recent 2016 study shows that 20-year-old English native speakers recognise on average 42,000 lemmas, ranging from 27,100 for the lowest 5% of the population to 51,700 lemmas for the highest 5%. These lemmas come from 6,100 word families in the lowest 5% of the population and 14,900 word families in the highest 5%. 60-year-olds know on average 6,000 lemmas more. [8]

Regarding second language acquisition, this is relevant: The knowledge of the 3000 most frequent English word families or the 5000 most frequent words provides 95% vocabulary coverage of spoken discourse.[18] For minimal reading comprehension a threshold of 3,000 word families (5,000 lexical items) was suggested[19][20] and for reading for pleasure 5,000 word families (8,000 lexical items) are required.[21] An "optimal" threshold of 8,000 word families yields the coverage of 98% (including proper nouns).[20]    Compare this with the 300-500 words required for a GCSE language.

A point made in [6] refers to vocabulary at age: In first grade, [Y2 in the UK, 6 or 7 years old] a child who can read learns about twice as many words as one who cannot. Generally, this gap does not narrow later. This results in a wide range of vocabulary by age five or six, when an English-speaking child will have learned about 1500 words.  This ties up uncomfortably well with another site I visited hours ago today, describing the problems of literacy and learning on Prince Edward Island, [7] A 150 word difference in comprehension aged 2 sets the initial conditions that determine whether a child will do well in school or not. By grade 9, the 300-word kids [300 words when aged 2] are at a second year of university level and the 150-word kids are stuck at grade 5. Over a lifetime, the gap widens.

If you know some of the words I am hunting, do please share. Best of all, point me to a place where I can discover more such words I don't know. I am a subscriber to A.Word.A.Day which offers a word each day, grouped in sets of five for a week, each week roughly grouped by some common thread. I know many of these words, but use few of them. I claim 'success' if I read the word and have a meaning come to mind before reading the definition(s). Around once a week (I mean 20% of the time or less) the word is one I don't know, and about 20% of those events there is a word I'd like to use — except I see little point in using a word if no-one is going to know what I mean, a whole new set a reasons for permitting dumbing-down to occur. Too often in China I'd use the word I knew was exactly what I meant, only to have 1st-language English speakers tell me they didn't have that word in their speaking vocabulary and had never heard it used in speech (so it wasn't in their larger listening vocabulary either). Yet, if we don't work at enlarging our vocabularies, we lose the use of the words and so we risk losing the ability to communicate, at least communicate with precision. Perhaps we simply don't care enough about precision at all, preferring to be vague, to mislead, to leave detail off to the future to be discovered (like after people have committed to your cause is when you tell them what it is they have committed to, as in politics).  This is not good.

DJS 20180824

[1] https://www.onelook.com/reverse-dictionary.shtml
[2] http://reversedictionary.org
[3] https://www.onelook.com/pm/#?w1=anomalous%20&w2=pronunciation  
[3a] Try also this:  http://portmanteaur.com/?words=anomalous+pronunciation

[4] https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/single-word-requests
[5] https://www.dailywritingtips.com/paronyms-and-paranyms/
[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocabulary Honest, I found this AFTER I’d written my page.
[7] http://smartpei.typepad.com/robert_patersons_weblog/2008/01/pei---poor-educ.html
[8] http://phrontistery.info/findtips.html



1 wikipedia, [6] gives stages of degree of knowledge in the acquisition of words. Roughly, these stages could be described as:

  1. Never encountered the word. 
  2. Heard the word, but cannot define it.
  3. Recognise the word due to context or tone of voice.
  4. Able to use the word and understand the general and/or intended meaning, but cannot clearly explain it.
  5. Fluent with the word – its use and definition.

That article goes on to define the four vocabularies as reading, listening speaking and writing.

 Using the  sign to indicate a connection between pairs:  baited breath  bated breath ; ex-patriot  ex-patriate;  all intensive purposes  all intents and purposes;  old-timers’ disease  alzheimers' disease.     Malapropisms:  dance a flamingo  dance a flamenco;  electrical votes  electoral votes.

Email: David@Scoins.net      © David Scoins 2018