We recently wrote about the words women don’t know that men do and vice versa.
But the meanings of some words confuse people of both genders.
The Center for Reading Research analysed the first 480,000 results of Ghent University’s online vocabulary test and found the words English speakers know the least. Actually, people didn’t think they were words at all.
In the online vocabulary test, 100 letter sequences — which may or may not be real English words — flash across the takers’ screens. Pressing the “j” (instead of “f”) key indicates the participants know the word exists in English, even if they don’t understand it. The test strongly penalizes participants for marking they know a word that doesn’t exist.
Fewer than 3% of participants marked they knew the 20 English words below.
In all honestly, I recognised two of them: stibnite and daysure. (Scroll to the end for definitions.)
For some context, our content management system recognises none of the words. It’s trying to autocorrect “cacomistle” to “Jagermeister,” “smaragd” to “smeared,” and “
dasyure” to “desire.”
It’s not surprising that most of these words are nouns. As a part of speech, nouns have less unifying characteristics than, let’s say adjectives, which often end in -able or -ible, -ful, -ous, and other suffixes. That could play into participants’ recognition.
Some of the words are also quite old (like “yogh,” which entered English around the year 1300,) and foreign in origin (like “simoom,” which stems from Arabic).
Lastly, 8.3% of participants on average endorsed “fake” words in the online test. That means more people admitted to knowing a word that doesn’t exist than recognising these 20 words that do.
And in case you scored as poorly as I did, here are the definitions:
- genipap (n., a tropical, evergreen tree with edible fruit used in drinks)
- futhorc (n., the Old English, runic alphabet)
- witenagemot (n., an Anglo-Saxon political council)
- gossypol (n., a toxic pigment that inhibits sperm production)
- chaulmoogra (n., an Asian tree, with seed-oil that treats leprosy)
- brummagem (adj., cheap and showy)
- alsike (n., a clover native to Europe)
- chersonese (n., a peninsula)
- cacomistle (n., a carnivorous, raccoon-like animal)
- yogh (n., Middle English letter, used to represent the “y” sound)
- smaragd (adj., relating to emeralds)
- duvetyn (adj., a soft fabric made of wool, cotton, rayon, or silk)
- pyknic (adj., short, stocky)
- fylfot (n., a swastika)
- yataghan (n., double-curved Turkish sword)
- dasyure (n., any small, carnivorous marsupial)
- simoom (n., strong, hot wind in the Sahara and Arabian deserts)
- stibnite (n., a mineral; also the chief source of antimony)
- kalian (n., a tobacco pipe where smoke cools by passing through water)
- didapper (n., a type of small bird)
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