According to academicians Mario Pei and Robert McCrum William Shakespeare, had a vocabulary of 30,000 words.
The King James Bible (the first one translated and published in English and contemporaneous with Shakespeare) uses, according to authors Joseph Shipley and Charlton Laird, between 7,000 and 8,000 different words.
Mario Pei sites a 20th century study of English agricultural workers put their usable vocabulary at around 500 words.
American lexicographer Stuart Berg Flexner thinks the average well-read person probably uses, in weekly conversation, only 1,500 to 2,000 words, though they know close to 20,000.
Here are a few of the myriad sites that offer word-of-the-day emails and/or RSS feeds to help you build your word count:
- Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/wordoftheday/
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/mwwod.pl
- Wordsmith.org http://wordsmith.org/words/today.html
- New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/learning/students/wordofday/
- Oxford English Dictionary http://www.oed.com/cgi/display/wotd
- Cambridge Dictionaries Online http://dictionary.cambridge.org/wordoftheday.asp
As the late John Ciardi, poet and etymologist, used to say, “Good words to you.”