WordCountâ„¢ is an artistic experiment in the way we use language. It presents the 86,800 most frequently used English words, ranked in order of commonness. Each word is scaled to reflect its frequency relative to the words that precede and follow it, giving a visual barometer of relevance. The larger the word, the more we use it. The smaller the word, the more uncommon it is.


Here’s another interesting exercise in visually representing language, called Word Count. You can type in any word and find out how often it is used. “Wild” for example is number 1848, with Russian on one side (1847) and Liverpool (1849) on the other. The data base used is something called the British National Corpus, “a 100 million word collection of samples of written and spoken language from a wide range of sources, designed to represent a wide cross-section of current British English, both spoken and written.” That in itself is worth looking over.

One of the stranger side effects of this nicely designed site is that people began to find patterns in the sequences of word frequency counts. And, of course, they mailed the owner of the site, Jonathon Harris, to tell him what they found. This begot the WordCount Conspiracy Game, a search for apparent meaning in the lists of words. If you type in my first name, for example, you get this sequence, from 4115-4119, “washed ray removal organic pairs.” Who knew? Here are a few of my favorite Conspiracy Game listings:

992-995 america ensure oil opportunity
30523-30525 despotism clinching internet
4304-4307 microsoft aquire salary tremendous
17244-17246 neon porn convict
5283-5285 angel seeks supper

Another game is called 70s Movie Title Search, and they also have something called Query Count, which tracks the words people search for in Word Count. Can you guess what the number one word might be? When I checked: sex.


About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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