Wednesday, May 30, 2012

15,842 new words: Word 1. (This is not a post about writing.)

More pics like this at BRIANE PAGEL: PWNST
Recently, I've become more and more interested in differing kinds of writing -- from deciding to learn a new language I'll call "Computer-ese" because I've only read the intro to the book so far plus I downloaded a game that's supposed to teach you how to think like a programmer, so really I'm like 99% of the way to that dream -- to an increasing emphasis on writing poems (Poetry being what Gandhi once called "the sweet science") -- to my attempts to write specific word count stories, which is not designed to shorten up the stories at all, as I am philosophically opposed to making things shorter for no reason, but which is instead designed to pose a challenge to me, much the way I once went on vacation to San Francisco and saw the steepest hill I had ever seen and I decided that when I went out for my daily jog which I used to even do on vacations 'cause I'm amazing that way or I was, I would have to run up that hill because I wanted to see if I could do it...

...where was I?

Anyway, the other day, when I was out for my walk and thinking philosophical thoughts about nature, I also was trying to think of a way to determine how many words I actually knew, as of that moment.

Just because I was curious, you see.  I wondered whether there would be a way to determine how many words I knew as of any moment, other than simply listing the words I knew, which wouldn't be a real test because then you're just checking on memory, not really knowledge, and my memory is shot: I can barely recall what kind of pizza I had for breakfast today.*

*It was delicious, though.

I was thinking about that because I thought it also might be fun to increase my vocabulary (outside of computer-ese, even) and that it wouldn't hurt for me to know more words than I currently know, except, again, I wasn't sure how many words I knew.

What if, I wondered, I know ALL the words?

It's possible, you know.  It was thought possible, at one time, to know everything that there was to know in the world -- to take all of the human knowledge that had ever been, well, known, and learn it, a task that grew more impossibly Sisyphean every day, when you consider that each day we learn more and more and that the person who learned everything that was to be known at any one point would therefore create a new fact -- the existence of the person who knew everything, and the fact that he knew it all and then didn't, almost an instant later when someone discovered a new bug.

(People say there was a person who knew everything there was to know, but people are stupid.  They also can't decide who that person was.  Most say it was Francis Bacon, some say Goethe, and others say maybe it's Kant.)(It was nobody. There was nobody, I think, who knew everything there was to know.)

But you could know all the words, I suppose -- a limited subset of knowledge, just like you could know all the elements or all the prime numbers mankind has identified. (I have no idea how many there are but I did look up the largest one found.  It's 243112609-1, and it has 12,978,189 digits in it.)

So I hit on this quest to learn how many words I know as of now, now being

right now

and right now

and right now

and so on, and a method to learn that, by deciding I would learn myself 15,842 new words.

I hit on that number by determining how many days I had been alive as of the day I decided to do this.

And I decided I'd learn those words by going to the Oxford English Dictionary online, because as it turns out, I don't own a dictionary and don't want to pay for one, and I could access most of that one for free, because I don't want to pay for words if it turns out I already own all of them.

Once there, I decided, I'd start by beginning at the beginning (always a good place to begin) and reading until I came to a word I didn't know.  That word would be my new word, and I'd have learned it and gotten a count of how many words I knew... so far.

So here's New Word 1, which came just seven words into the dictionary -- or one word, depending on how you count it.

I got as far as a, which seems like a word I should know as I use it all the time, but version 7 of a is ...

...hold on: I just noticed that my typeface is different for italics than for regular: If I type a, it comes up a but if I type a it comes up a... weird.

Anyhow, version 7 of a is that it is used, archaically, as a war cry, but only when prefixed to a proper name, with the last-known use of it (according to OED, which ought to know) being

1908   K. Grahame Wind in Willows xii. 284   Mole, black and grim, brandishing his stick and shouting his awful war-cry, ‘A Mole!, A Mole!’

 When next you go to battle with someone, revive that tactic:  "A Sweetie! A Sweetie! I am having this pizza for breakfast!"


PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

I thought A was just what Canadians said a lot. Though I think that would be spelled "eh".

I would suggest like my beta reader did recently that if I don't know it then it's not worth knowing.

About the only way to know everything would be if every human were linked together into a collective consciousness like the Borg on Star Trek. Though even then there would probably be things we didn't know.

Andrew Leon said...

Now I'm wondering if that's related to "a vast"...