Words. How many words are there in the dictionary, and how many words does the average English-speaking person actually know?

By Trish Morgan
For the News Tribune
Words. How many words are there in the dictionary, and how many words does the average English-speaking person actually know?
The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use (and 47,156 obsolete words).
According to lexicographer and dictionary expert Susie Dent, “the average active vocabulary of an adult English speaker is around 20,000 words, while his passive vocabulary is around 40,000 words.”
Earlier this week when I was working on my writings, my mind wandered a bit (as it often does), and the question just popped up. Just like that. So, I thought about the word "word,” and just asked myself, "wonder how many words I know, and how many words are there to know?"
Sorry. This is part of the strange workings of the mind of Trish Morgan, and seems to be part of the process of my written creations. Besides, Google is my best friend, and when writing, or whenever I need an answer, Google is "go to.”
As a writer, I am a lover of words, and sometimes the words come out so fast it is nearly impossible to speak them fast enough to type. They flow like river rapids, and they splash and spill over on to the computer screen so fast it's hard to keep up.
Then, on another day when it's time to get a chapter written, or write a newspaper or magazine article, I sit there - fingers ready to type, mind focused on the task at hand, all quiet in my little space - then, nothing. Nothing at all comes to mind. Blank - as if the 20,000 words I may know are all bunched up in a corner in my brain - waiting on some spark to set them free.
As for my own personal dictionary in this brain of mine, early in life I discovered the power of words. We learn early on that some words you should never say because they just are not nice, not appropriate, not necessary - all part of our learning process as our parents teach us manners and respect.
We learn about good words, nice words, happy words, kind words, encouraging words, and we learn how to use them at the right time. Some of us even learn to write them, and turn those words into poetry and song, and beautiful works of art.
We also learn that there are words we use when we are faced with trials and tribulations - times when life throws in unimaginable and unexpected things. We learn about prayer, and how to speak to God, and we soon understand that there are many times we need to comfort others by offering words of understanding, compassion, support and encouragement. For some of us, that comes easily. But, for others, those words are hard to say...for many reasons.
On the other hand, there are some words that, when I hear them or read them, strike out like a cobra. And, I recoil. The word "worthless" is one of those.
My breath catches, and sometimes before I realize it, tears run down my face. My heart shatters at the sound of that word, and the shards of glass scatter over the ground amidst the tears. That word directed at me is like a nail into my brain - hammered one strike at a time - reminding me over and over that words can hurt. We learn quickly about the power of words.
That, my friends, is the impact of what we say. Words can cast down the most innocent child's spirit, and that little girl may spend a lifetime trying to prove otherwise...trying to believe otherwise. Yet still, she is determined to rise like a phoenix and break the cycle of hurling words like feathers in the wind.
WORTHLESS. This word. It brings back a flood of memories, and not good ones. I have been called that many, many countless times...for years (although those nails make it seem like a lifetime). That word cut deep. Very. Luckily, somehow I knew I had value, but nonetheless, to hear it every day. Spirit-crushing.
NO ONE is worthless. NO ONE.
Let us use the words in our lives that inspire, and words that praise and uplift. Let us build and grow authentic friendships full of love and laughter and life! Let us use our words wisely so that we don't make people feel "less than", and let's offer words of kindness and thankfulness for the gifts that others share.
It's so simple to be nice, and it's very simple to tell someone you love them. It's simple to listen to the words of an extraordinary song, and let those words wash over you and make you feel the magic. It's a simple life if you break it down into pieces, and remember the times when you were an innocent child full of wonder.
It's a simple life when you close your eyes on a crisp and chilly September morn, and listen to the guitar and the words written by the late Jim Croce in "Time in a Bottle.” It's a simple life when you read a book by your favorite author who can take you to places you've never been, and who can make you feel the most special emotions as his words carried you oh that journey to the final page.
Yes, life can be simple. And words? They are powerful, meaningful, glorious sentences, stories and songs that can make the difference between goodness and malice. Think carefully, write and sing and love passionately. Life is short, and words live longer than we.