Friday, March 29

Macmillan survey of literary vocabulary

Dalya Alberge writes in The Times Online on 22 March 2002 that Colin Dexter (‘the crossword-loving author of the Inspector Morse detective stories’) uses 11,582 different words in his books. His vocabulary outstrips that of Shakespeare, Dickens and Wilde, and is getting on for twice that of Jane Austen. But none of the above can compete with James Joyce who, on the strength of Ulysses, heads the list with 19,903.

The survey was carried out by Macmillan the publisher with Brighton University, to coincide with the launch of the Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners. It involved compiling a corpus of 200 million words. The sample of each author’s work was confined to 200,000 words––the equivalent of about three novels. (Altogether, Shakespeare wrote a total of some two million words, comprising 20,000 different words.)

Dexter’s range (Alberge reports) includes 2,133 verbs, 5,482 nouns and 2,688 adjectives (Jane Austen’s vocabulary was a mere 6,798, including 1,441 verbs, 2,901 nouns and 1,643 adjectives). Dexter is surprised at the findings, and says he felt important for the first time in his life. He chooses words such as ‘hebdomadal’ rather than ‘weekly’ to help improve his readers’ word power. There is also, he concedes, an element of showing-off, and says he suffers mental torment if he doesn’t look up a new word he comes across.

The researchers found that contemporary writers such as V. S. Naipaul have a wider vocabulary than their predecessors. Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s creator, unexpectedly beat literary figures such as Virginia Woolf and Oscar Wilde––but Chris Shakespeare, head of the Macmillan research team, thinks this is because of her own additions to the English language, such as ‘smug-marrieds’. Joyce, too, was always inventing new words.

The researchers say that the key to learning the English language is recognising the core 7,500 words needed to speak and write fluently.

Glossary of the public and voluntary sectors

See,11637,646397,00.html for the Guardian’s glossary of acronyms, jargon and technical phrases used in documents issued by the UK public and voluntary sectors, complete with links to web sites for further information. It also includes advice on how to write clear and concise public documents that are easily intelligible to all.

* Accommodated
Term used to describe children who are looked after by their local authority but are not subject to care orders.
* Acute services
Medical and surgical treatment provided mainly in hospitals. Acute trusts are management units in charge of hospitals providing these services.
* Aggregate external finance
The total amount of money central government gives local government. Made up of the revenue support grant, business rates and ringfenced grants. Local authorities top this up with the council tax.
* Almshouse
A residential home, usually for older people or the homeless, providing accommodation for the poor and needy. Almshouses are often charities in their own right, or are owned and run by other charities as part of their operations. There are around 1,750 almshouse charities providing more than 30,000 dwellings across all parts of the country.
* Antisocial behaviour order (Asbo)
An injunction made by councils or the police against anyone over 10 years old causing harassment, alarm or distress to a household or a neighbourhood. Breaching the order is treated as a criminal offence and carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
* Assertive outreach
An approach to working with severely mentally ill adults who do not effectively engage with traditional mental-health services. Staff work with service users in their own environment––at home or in a cafe, a park or the street––rather than through appointments at an office or hospital.
* Beacon councils
Award scheme that aims to highlight good practice in delivering local government services. Other councils are then encouraged to learn from the beacons.
* Beacon servicesA scheme set up to identify and spread knowledge of examples of best practice in the NHS, highlighting innovative approaches to service provision in a range of areas, including accident and emergency, human resources, and reducing health inequalities.
* Bedblocking
Phenomenon of older people being forced to stay in hospital beds because other forms of care, such as nursing homes or home care, are not available - thereby "blocking" beds that could be used by other patients.
* Brownfield site
Land that has been built on before and is usually in an urban area. The land involved is often contaminated. Under a government target, 60% of all new development should be on brownfield sites.
* Business improvement district
Government regeneration initiative that allows councils to raise extra money from local businesses, but only if firms vote in favour of the move. The money is likely to be used for a specific project, such as cleaning up litter and graffiti in an inner city area, rather than general local authority spending.