https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

English Language Facts

I found some interesting language facts (I love facts!) about the English language and thought I'd share them. If you know any please comment!

  • The most commonly used word in English conversation is 'I'.

  • The word "Goodbye" came and derived from the word "GodBye" used in Old English which was used to mean, "God be with you.

  • 'I am.' is the shortest complete sentence.

  • The most commonly used letter in the alphabet is E.

  • The least used letter in the alphabet is Q.

  • The longest one syllable word in the English language is 'screeched'.

  • The word "Skiing" is the only word with double i.

  • The oldest word in the English language is 'town'.

  • The word "Checkmate" in chess comes from the Persian phrase "Shah Mat" meaning "the king is helpless."

  • The words 'Bookkeeper' and 'bookkeeping' are the only 2 words in the English language with 3 consecutive double letters.

  • The dot on top of the letter 'i' is called a tittle. Or what some people say is, the dot over the letter "i" and the letter "j" is called a "superscript dot".

  • The first English dictionary was written in 1755.

  • The longest word in the English language, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.

  • The word 'Stewardesses' is the longest word that is typed with only the left hand.

  • All pilots on international flights identify themselves in English regardless of their country of origin.

  • The word "set" has more definitions than any other word in the English language.

  • The word "alphabet" is derived from the first two letters in the Greek alphabet: "alpha" and "beta".

  • Mochas are named after a port in Yemen, from where coffee was exported to Europe in the 18th century.

  • Scarecrows were once known as hobidy-❤❤❤❤❤❤❤.

  • To explode originally meant "to jeer a performer off the stage. "

  • Did you know that of all the world's languages (over 2,700) English is arguably the richest in vocabulary; and that the Oxford English Dictionary lists about 500,000 words, and there are a half-million technical and scientific terms still uncatalogued?

October 14, 2015

95 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/RhydianDavies

Hi! I love facts about languages, especially English, since I've studied it the longest. So with your permission, I'd like to make a few little corrections

  1. Goodbye traces its origins to late Middle English, rather than Old English. The original phrase was "God be with ye.", which was then contracted to "Godbwye" and spelled in a variety of ways. Later, because of common phrases like "good day", "good morning", "God" was reinterpreted as "good", and we end up with "goodbye".

  2. There are other 9-letter single-syllable words in English, e.g. squelched. Some people use 'schmaltz' as a verb, so the past tense would be 'schmaltzed' with 10 letters.

  3. There's really no useful definition of "oldest word" in any language, because it implies that the language "sprung into existence" one sunny day, with a set number of words. In reality, languages evolve from older languages, and there is no real beginning. "town" is a descendant of Proto-Germanic tūną, which was spoken thousands of years ago.

  4. "longest word" is another one. The full names of some chemical compounds have thousands of letters. It depends on how you define "word".

  5. Usually, the number of languages in the world is given as 6000+, but that depends on how you count dialects. As you say, the claim that English is the 'richest' is arguable - it again comes down to what your definition of "a word" is. Finnish can make thousands of words from a single root and suffixes/prefixes, but not all of them end up in a dictionary. There are also languages that nobody has made dictionaries for, and as-of-yet unexplored languages.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/frankenstein724

you beat me to #2. Also, so much yes to #5.

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/chilvence

5: There's also the small consideration that the English language is so rich in vocabulary because it is basically several languages smashed together grown in a giant Petri dish called the British Isles.

(which is a diplomatic way of saying that we stole most of it...)

Yarr! Take what you can, give nothing back :)

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/RhydianDavies

Well, history is much less diplomatic indeed - after the Norman Conquest, English was relegated to the lower classes of society, while the upper classes spoke Norman French. That's why, even today, "marvelous" sounds more literary than "wonderful", and "mutton" is more haute cuisine than "lamb". It took a while for the two languages to gel together, which ultimately gave us Middle English with its French-ified spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary.

For a wonderful example of what English actually sounded like before the advent of Norman French, check this out.

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/chilvence

Well, that's precisely my point. What was niggling me was that the list is smug about the fact that "we have the richest vocabulary", while conveniently omitting the reasons why. It's almost as if we have something against the French or something... :)

And if whoever down voted me is reading, I would be delighted to hear what your opinion is.

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Luko.

That sounds like an Elvish language!

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

Thank you for your corrections. I should've looked more into the facts to see if they were correct.

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/wstockall

I've seen this list before and I still disagree with the "shortest sentence" one. "Go!" is a perfectly legitimate sentence.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CheeseB.Danish

I think that "I'm" should be the shortest sentence. "I'm" is an amazing feat of letterdom! It has a subject! It has a verb! All in one delightful two letter combination! Get yours--Remembers she's not at the carnival --You get my point.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/no.name.42

At least in my dialect, you can't use "I'm" to mean anything by itself. So, for example, the sentence "I think therefore I'm" is incomplete.

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Scobie712

Has anybody noticed that the En->Fr course does this in some of its "correct" answers? (E.g., "The friends that I've are the best friends that one could've.") C'mon, French.

October 16, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/EoghanBostock

That is correct in at least one dialect, which is the one from the posh south of Belfast. And I know that because I was raised on that dialect :)

October 18, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/frankenstein724

indeed, as no.name.42 said. I am unaware of a single variety in English in which "I'm" would be considered well formed by itself.

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CheeseB.Danish

Hey, 5th grade English told me that a sentence is a subject and a verb...doesn't mean it's not weird, but I still maintain that "I'm" is a legitimate sentence. :D

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/frankenstein724

5th grade is not the end all be all of language learning. There -are- weird sentences that are correct. The most famous example being "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously". That is a perfectly grammatical sentence, even though it doesn't really make any sense. "I'm", on the other hand, is a "weak" form of "I am", and can't be the end of a phrase. Well, here it is, as both the beginning and end of a phrase.

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Yerrick

Even though "I'm" is a contraction of "I am", the two aren't interchangeable. "I'm" can only precede a noun phrase or verbal, as in "I'm going" or "I'm the princess."

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/diezletras

In theory "Go!" is maybe not a complete sentence, but one with an implied (or "suppressed") subject? Maybe this is the case with all commands? Good for pointing it out, though; works well enough for me. Other contenders someone might argue: "Hi." "Ha." "Hm." "No." "Sh." "Ow." Oh, and "I go" and "I do" are both the same length as "I am", right?

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/frankenstein724

If we are going to count "Ha" as a sentences (I'm not sure I'd accept bare interjections, but I'll play along. The definition of "sentence" can be as fuzzy as the definition of "word", anyway), it is probably technically the shortest of the bunch you just listed, in terms of pronunciation time. the vowel in "Ha" is shorter than most of the others. well...shorter than in "Hi" and "ow", generally speaking, anyway.

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/acspecht

All of those examples should be considered complete, since the definition of a sentence is simply one or more words that express a coherent idea.

The heuristic rules requiring a subject and a verb are only useful for detecting sentences that are too ambiguous to be understood, and are hence "incomplete". Outside of that context, defining what a "complete sentence" means is totally arbitrary. There are just sentences which either are, or are not, incomplete.

October 16, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Lahure

And there are only two commonly used English words ending with gry. Angry and hungry.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ketoacidosis

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/frankenstein724

this. always this.

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

Good one. xD

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/BobLeSnob

XD

October 16, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

I think I saw that one somewhere.... :D

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Lahure

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog?

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

Or what some people say about that sentence is that it contains all the letters of the alphabet.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/wildfood

Correct. This sentence was sent over old teletype machines to test out all the functions of the system.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

Okay, thanks for clarifying! :)

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/EoghanBostock

That's interesting. I never new it was for testing.

October 18, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/maltu
  • 1182

it is "the quick red fox jumps over the lazy brown dog" to get in all the letters of the alphabet, leaving out the "e" in red would be a problem! I learned touch-typing many years ago, and this was a test sentence that we used frequently.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/SethFriday

You can leave out "red" and still have: "r" in "over," "e" in "the," and "d" in "dog."

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/KateM303

I believe lollipop is the longest word you can type with only your right hand.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

Interesting, haven't heard that one. :)

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Tykenolm

Can confirm, I learned this a few years ago.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Eurazian

" The oldest word in the English language is 'town'. " This immediately stood out as odd. Tried searching and all I can find is the same copy-and-paste trivia.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

I agree. It is odd. I would think it would be "me" "I" or something like that.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Eurazian

Right, but having an "oldest word" implies that there's a discrete point in time at which English came into existence which of course from an evolutionary linguistic perspective is just wrong. I like the rest of the trivia though.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

Hmmm, I see your point. Thank you, though it looks like some of it has been proven wrong.

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/asawp

Very interesting! Thanks for posting! Also, a shoutout to all of us English speakers who know nothing about our language

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

You're welcome and Thank you! :))

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CheeseB.Danish

Well, I know what I'm calling scarecrows from now on. XD

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

Right?! xD

October 19, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/lastnote

An extra fact on the letter e:
There's a book made without using the letter e. It's called Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright. http://www.holybooks.com/wp-content/uploads/Gadsby-by-Ernest-Vincent-Wright.pdf

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/diezletras

Cool, there is also a more modern French book written (in the late 1960s) with the same restriction; it has been translated into several languages, always without the letter 'E.' Here is the Wiki entry for the English version, A VOID, which I have in hardcover somewhere. There seem to be Wiki entries for this book in 7 other languages, but the English entry lists translations having been published in 10 other languages...

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/lastnote

Thank you for sharing! :D I guess I have a reason to learn French now. It would be nice to read it in French and read the translations after that. (you have the hardcover!?)

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

Interesting. I should read it sometime. :)

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Jonathangrant00

I did not know that clicking on this link would download an entire virtual copy of the book "gadsby". Please make it more clear next time. :)

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/lastnote

Ah, sorry >< I meant to link it to the pdf version of the book... Did it automatically download it? (because in my case it didn't but I can download it). I guess I should link to the website mentioning it or I don't have to link it next time.

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Jonathangrant00

Its very interesting i would have liked to see the website version which is what I was expecting. :D

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Jonathangrant00

Thanks!

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

I guess I should've looked more into that! Thanks for putting that. I'll delete that fact now as it looks like it has been proven wrong. :)

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/7895123G

The longest English word that can be spelled without repeating any letters is ‘uncopyrightable’

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/miacomet

How about "uncopyrightables"? Meaning "the things which cannot be copyrighted"?

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/frankenstein724

people would probably claim it's not a word. They'd be wrong, of course.

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/miacomet

Gotta love highly productive concatenative morphology. :)

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/diezletras

Just saw mention of this earlier today, while translating the en.Wiki entry for '15' on a whim. "Uncopyrightable" has 15 letters, as do the words it shares this distinction with -- namely "dermatoglyphics", "misconjugatedly", and "hydropneumatics."

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

Interesting fact. :)

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/AmareloTiago

The word "Skiing" is the only word with double i.

I always thought the word fasciism was spelled more correctly with a double i because it comes from the Italian word fascii, which means a bundle of sticks (and translates to the English word 'faggot', possible cognate?) and used to be a symbol for the social science of civics.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

I never thought about that!

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/diezletras
  • The bit about the shortest sentence reminds me of the (worthwhile) documentary about Muhammad Ali, When We Were Kings - or about one specific part of it, anyway. The documentarians interviewed the sometime-sportswriter, sometime-biographer, always-talented, now-departed George Plimpton about Ali, and he related a neat anecdote, which he prefaced by relating that prior to 1975, according to Bartlett’s Quotations, the shortest poem in the English language -- "On the Antiquity of Microbes" -- was just three words long: "Adam had 'em.” Ali gave a speech at Harvard in 1975 in which he did the previous poem better by a significant percentage. In the Harvard Crimson article that reported on this speech back in its day, the poem is transcribed as "Me? Whee!" It's now usually written as "Me? We." which actually changes its meaning considerably.

  • Did you know that you might be able to access the entirety of the Oxford English Dictionary for free via any computer with an internet connection, using library access? This is apparently pretty common in the UK, and has been adopted by libraries in the USA in cities like Denver and Los Angeles. Anyone with an address anywhere in California can establish free access by paying a one-time visit to any branch of the L.A. Public Library, and such is likely the case for Colorado residents visiting Denver, and in libraries in other states/cities. I used to have the OED3 on CD-rom, and attempted to break its copyright protection with professional help while also searching for copies in black markets around the world, all without success, so in my opinion this is kind of a big deal.

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Scobie712

So Plimpton/Ali had the shortest poem. Hemingway still has the shortest short story (possibly apocryphal, but a good story nonetheless): "For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn."

October 16, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Tom873317

Not sure that there are any facts attached, but this discussion got me thinking about one of my favorite English sentences: "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo."

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Yerrick

Now diagram that sentence. (It's actually instructive!)

October 16, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/RunningFrog

This is such a cool discussion! I commend you for all the research :). However, I have a small bone to pick. "Skiing" is not the only english word with a double i. Radii, taxiing, and trapezii, to name a few.

October 24, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

Thank you! And thanks also for your correction. :)

October 24, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/EricaHarley

I thought that "Go" was the shortest complete sentence?

December 8, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

Yes, I've heard that, but some people don't consider "Go" a sentence. :D

(Also, this was my first post and therefore has a lot of mistakes in it.)

December 8, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/EricaHarley

Ah, I see. My bad.

December 8, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

Perfectly fine. :)

December 8, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/IzZySsPp

i did not know this... the scarecrow one was a bit... weird..

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/bethia.seager

They still use that in Norfolk!

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

Didn't know that!

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

It is isn't it? xD

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/IzZySsPp

lol

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/EpicPowerHero

Actually the longest word is a chemistry word and you have to scroll down to read all of it.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

Okay, but as I put, that's according to the Oxford English Dictionary. :)

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/EpicPowerHero

Oh I forgot.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/EpicPowerHero

It takes three hours to pronounce properly and I'd post it here but it would take up SO much space. Search for the full name for titin. I don't know if it qualifies, but it's still cool.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

That's alright. I will look it up. Do you know how many letters it has? :)

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/EpicPowerHero

I think it's around 18,000.

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/lastnote

I think I saw this years ago :D

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

Wow! No wonder it takes so long to learn how to pronounce it.

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

My goodness! I just looked it up! It is long!

October 14, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/gingerninja3148

Thanks for this. I love facts too! And they were all very interesting. As much as i love learning about other languages, it is also fun to learn about English (my native language).

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

You're welcome! :)

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Seif..

Interesting stuff, Thank you for sharing it with us :)

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

You're welcome! :)

October 15, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/magicafan

Wow, I knew none of this and English is my native language xD Thank you for sharing!

October 17, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MissThorson

You're welcome! :)

October 17, 2015
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