If you can successfully read and understand this article, you’re among the world’s 1.5 billion English speakers. Indeed, almost 1 in 5 people speaks English either as a first or a second language.
But in addition to its immense worldwide prevalence, English has a lot of interesting quirks – ones that will surprise even native speakers! For example, did you know what proprietary eponyms are? What about pangrams? If not (or even if you do!), read on to find out some of the weirdest and most wonderful oddities about the world’s most widespread language.
1. A new word is created once every two minutes
Each year, about 4000 words are added to the dictionary, which comes out to a whopping rate of over one word every two minutes! 2014, for example, seems to have been a fun year, since some of the words added were “selfie” and “twerk”. 2020 was characterised by words like "live stream" and "pay gap".
2. The word mortgage means “death pledge”
If you study French, you may notice that the English word “mortgage” looks like the French words mort (death) and gage (contract). This isn’t a coincidence: “mortgage” indeed derives from French. According to the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, the word came about because the debt becomes void or ‘dead’ when the pledge was redeemed”.
3. A pangram is a sentence that contains every letter in the alphabet
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. This oft-cited sentence is famous for containing all 26 letters and is thus frequently used to showcase particular typefaces. These sentences are officially known as pangrams. Two other pangrams include:
Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.
Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow.
4. 11% of English consists only of the letter “E”
The most common letter in the English language, “E”, has an incidence rate of over one in 10 letters. In contrast, the least-used letter, “Q”, is seen only once in every 500 letters.
5. There are more English speakers in Nigeria than in the UK
The UK – the birthplace of the English language – has about 60 million English speakers. Nigeria, in contrast, has over 90 million. This makes it the fourth-most populous English-speaking nation in the world, after the United States, India, and Pakistan.
6. Words that derive from brand names are called proprietary eponyms
Have you ever used a Band-Aid? Or thrown away your garbage into a Dumpster? Or tried a Popsicle? Or Xeroxed a sheet of paper?
If so, you’ve used a proprietary eponym, which are brand names that have snuck their way into our everyday vocabulary. Indeed, all of the above words were commercial products before they gained popularity as generic nouns. Other examples include Velcro, Frisbee, Q-Tip, and Hula Hoop.
7. There are over 24 different dialects in the US alone
The United States is a big place, and as such, it has over 24 distinctly identifiable dialects within it. Indeed, as any native American English speaker can tell you, people in New York, Boston, Texas, Minnesota, and California will sound quite different!
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8. 80% of the information stored in computers is in English
English is the most widely used language on the Internet. It’s also the language used by the vast majority of programming languages such as Java, which means that most code is written using English-language commands.
9. Some words have been added to the dictionary by accident
The 1934 edition of Merriam-Webster’s English dictionary included an entry for the word dord, which purportedly meant “density”. However, this was actually an error, as in physics, density can be abbreviated by an upper-case or lower-case “D”. The editor of the dictionary mistakenly read “D or d” as a single word – dord – and thus incorrectly added it to the dictionary. It wasn’t removed until over a decade later in 1947.
Even if you’ve studied English extensively – or even speak it – we bet you didn’t know the saga behind the “word” dord!
The prevalence of English only continues to grow, and as a result, it’s more important than ever to have a good grasp of the language for educational, business, and personal reasons. If you want to perfect your English skills, the best and fastest way to fluency is to take lessons from a professionally trained native English speaker. Send us a quick inquiry to find out more about course and package options.