The Cambridge Online Dictionary has a monthly Top 40 words list.
Don’t assume that it’s the editor’s favourite words. Sadly, it isn’t. It’s the words people have searched for most. Which seem a bit odd. I could count down from 40, like the way they do Music Charts on the radio or all those TV programmes called things like “100 best movies about stale bread” I’ll spare you that agony of expectation.
The top 5, with last month’s placings in brackets are:
1 advice (1)
2 regard (2)
3 comply (3)
4 effect (5)
5 assess (4)
What! What! Are many people looking up these words? Why? Can you think of any reason why a native English speaker would look up the meaning of “advice”? It can’t even be a spelling check thing, surely. These words aren’t exactly spelling bee material. This suggests that there may be only a handful of people using the resource and/or getting counted. A word could probably make the top ten with half a dozen hits.
Hence, a co-worker and I hatched a demonic and pointless plan to juke the stats (phrase courtesy of the Wire) and boost our own current favourite words to star status. We picked “discombobulate” and “swarf.” The plan was to search for them, in the Cambridge Online Dictionary whenever we found ourselves near anyone’s PC, so there would be a reasonable spread of IP addresses, just in case the supporters of “advice” questioned the legitimacy of their boy losing top spot.
Bah. The plan failed at the first hurdle. Neither word is actually in the Cambridge Online Dictionary, so neither word can get boosted into the top ten, no matter how cunning the click pattern.
(There would be no pleasure in playing this game at the boring level of feloniously shifting “aware” February’s (highest unplaced mover) from its current 36 placing to, say, 31. Where’s the challenge in that?)
An old-style hardback copy of the Concise Oxford Dictionarycontained both words and provided definitions. (Concise, it isn’t. It’s only “concise” when considered next to the full versions of the OED, which seems capable of giving a definition for almost any imaginable combination of letters) Sadly, there is no word league table in the Concise Oxford. Just a staid list of words.
What’s going to happen to the words that are too eccentric to fit into online dictionaries? I hope they don’t die out because no one can be sure what they mean.
(Just in case you too are equally bored at work and/or nerdy (which possibly means you too spent a fair time today reading tributes to Gary Gygax,) you probably also need to know if there are online definitions of discombobulate and swarf. Yes and yes.