27 July 2006

Word Length & Familiarity

I have a long-held, seldom-expressed theory about word length. It's just one of those crazy little things that bounces around in my head, and I wonder if there's any meaning to it.

Specifically, I suspect that familiar objects & activities generally get short words... and the more familiar, the shorter the word. While some very common objects & activies have longish words, I have not yet been able to think of a three letter word for something that is not familiar - can you? Check it out:

arm, leg, gut, eat, die, kid, sky, sun, run, see, hug, kiss (I count the double s as basically one letter), mom, dad, man, boy, dog, cat, cow, moon (see note on kiss)...

As an example of how words change, consider the Horseless Carriage, which became the automobile, and then became the Car. Or the computer becoming the PC (or Mac).

Why isn't water a three letter word? Why isn't "person" shorter? I don't know.

Anyway, I poked around online a little and came across this Ask Oxford site, which presents some data that seems to support my hypothesis... Most of the 100 most common English words are one syllable and in the 2-4 letter range...

4 comments:

Kim said...

Hmmm...interesting. I wonder how this applies to languages other than English.

Pete D said...

We do it with names also. Daniel/Dan, Kimberly/Kim, Mark/Ma..oh well :-}

Hi Dan. Great Blog!

Dan said...

Thanks, Pete! Glad you're enjoying the blog!

Anonymous said...

Here are some links that I believe will be interested