Discovering New Words

crepuscular adjective

cre-pus-cu-lar | \ kri-ˈpə-skyə-lər \

1 : of, relating to, or resembling twilight

2 : occurring or or active during twilight

I’m a crepuscular writer.

I’m $30 poorer, but one word richer.

If not for the Gas Station TV at a nearby Speedway, it is doubtful I would have ever stumbled upon the word crepuscular. It’s also unlikely that I’ll ever use the word again.


The word itself got me thinking about other words.

How many do I know? How many new words are added each year?

I’ve done some digging.

How Many Words Do I Know?

Despite not having a voracious appetite for reading (it’s always a failed New Years Resolution), I felt confident about having an above average vocabulary.

I tested myself in two different ways – my ability to recognize words and words I know by definition.

My first check came via the test from the University of Ghent’s Center for Reading Research.

It’s a simple test, consisting of single words being flashed on screen one at a time for four minutes. If you recognize the word as a real English word, you press “J.” If you don’t think it’s a real English word, press “F.” Straightforward.

I’m at the top level.

The one nonword that I thought was a word – tarnal. Seemed legit.

While it’s cool to know that I can identify actual words, I was more interested in learning about my ability to comprehend.

Queue another test. Again, simple – click through three sets of words, identifying those that you know the definition of. The only fault here is that you don’t have to prove you understand the word. I was on the fence on a few words like “sobriquet” and “pule.” I thought I knew their definitions, but didn’t check them as “understood” during the test. It turns out I only knew sobriquet – a nickname.

When it is all said and done, you’ve clicked (or not) through a bunch of words and been given a resulting total.

Drumroll please.

Some of the complementary research on is from quite some time ago and because of the potential testing error mentioned above – I’m not confident in comparing my results to the research on their blog. Think you know more words than me? Test yourself.

How Many Words Are There?

Merriam-Webster’s newest unabridged edition has around 470,000 entries.

It’s crazy that there are so many words, but yet we use so few and learn even fewer. And! We keep adding more at what feels like an alarming rate.

In their latest update, the Oxford English Dictionary added 550 words, senses, and phrases. 550 words. They contribute four updates a year.

How many words do you think you added to your vocabulary in the last year? 50? Without a consistent reading habit or an upcoming standardized test, it is likely we aren’t committing many new words to memory.

But learning new words is fun. I should do it more often