Is Your Vocabulary Greater Than Shakespeare’s?

We came across a nice site that tests your vocabulary in a short ‘quiz’ (of sorts) that takes only a few minutes to complete. It’s an interesting little test, because it will calculate (by which we really mean ‘estimate’) your vocabulary, or total number of words which you could practically use in conversation or writing.

This got us thinking about interesting words, especially rare ones, found in literature. It is commonly said that William Shakespeare had a vocabulary of 17,000-20,000 words, but most modern English speakers use many more than this. That said, there are many rare old words which are sadly underused today, but which writers of times past would have been familiar with. Here are a few of them:

Shakespeare2A bellibone is an old word for (we’re quoting Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary here) ‘a woman excelling in both beauty and goodness’; it appears in Edmund Spenser’s Shepheardes Calendar in the late 1570s.

An ultracrepidarian is someone who gives opinions on things they know nothing about; the word first appears in the writings of the essayist William Hazlitt in the early nineteenth century.

An agathist is ‘a person who believes that all things tend towards ultimate good’. So if you’re tired of using the near-synonymous ‘optimist’, what about this handy alternative?

In his 1818 novel Nightmare Abbey, Thomas Love Peacock coined the word antithalian – meaning ‘opposed to fun or festivity’.

Pandiculation is the act of stretching and yawning as a sign of weariness; it is first recorded in a dictionary from 1611.

A quidnunc is another name for a gossip, busybody, or nosy person; it comes from the Latin for ‘what now?’

Are there any rare words you think should be better known?

Anyway, to the vocab test. We shared the test with our followers on Twitter earlier today, and you can see the range of results in the @ replies we got. So, what will be your score? How many words do you intimately know?

Here is the link to the site, Test Your Vocabulary – be sure to let us know the extent of your word-knowledge!

Image: Shakespeare by William Blake, public domain.


  1. Fun! Many thanks for stopping by my blog and tapping that ‘Follow’ button. I appreciate it.

  2. Great words! I meet with some like-minded logophiles at least once a month for our “word luncheon” during which we all four share at least two new words that we’ve picked up since our last meeting. Our challenge is keeping the number down to two! Anyway, this week I’m sharing bellibone to describe the three females in our little group.

  3. I made 30,700. Not bad, I suppose.

  4. Reblogged this on Picasso Plate and commented:

  5. I’m going to have to remember ultracrepidarian.

  6. Thanks for the new words! “Ultracrepidarian” is so great…definitely makes me think of creepy, decrepit, ultra-annoying people who dare to lecture you about things they don’t know anything about. :)

  7. Reblogged this on Caxton and commented:
    ‘An ultracrepidarian is someone who gives opinions on things they know nothing about.’ A useful word in the context of the discussion of language.

  8. Reblogged this on WordCupid and commented:
    A nice little quiz to energise your Sunday afternoon.

  9. I took the test, 29,300 words. Not bad. I thought I knew more considering that I read a lot. Interesting blog. I never thought of guesstimating how many words I know. I agree with Lady Fancifull though. To get a better idea of how many and how well you know, a test with multiple choice questions would have been better. I suppose that’s a project someone else will pick up.

  10. Well I did pleasurably well on that – though I wondered whether the test might not have been more accurately done (at least where it really narrowed down, to presenting a reasonable range of multiple choice questions on meaning. Because of course you might be pretty sure you know the meaning of a word, but could be wrong.

    I suppose I should have checked the dictionary with words I was fairly sure i knew the meaning of but had a hesitation about. Because (as with ultracrepidarian!) looking at the various pieces which make up a word, meaning seems to be implied – but might not be!

  11. I LOVE ultracrepidarian – on first reading that I thought it might mean something like the very wizened 103 year old nun in the film The Great Beauty – it sounds like ‘decrepit beyond imagining!’

    Right, off to take the test…………….

  12. Reblogged this on Norah's Knowledge Bank 2014 and commented:
    ‘Ultracrepidarian’ is bound to come in handy!

  13. Reblogged this on N R Nolan and commented:
    A fun little quiz for the weekend…

  14. Re. Is the word anti-thalian(Peack) borrowed from Rebelais’ work where Thélème stands for full and free development of the senses?

  15. I had no idea how I would fare on the test but was surprised to find I know 34,800 words. Mind you I think I probably only actively use about half of that.

  16. I got 28K .

  17. Interesting new words! Thanks for this.

  18. Loved this post. I particularly like ultracrepidarian. I have just the character who fits this description.Thanks for sharing. :)

  19. Reblogged this on Love Of Words and commented:
    Great post! Enjoy my fellow lover of words! :)

  20. Oh, I love the word ultracrepidarian. Although, based on the definition, I think it should be ultracradpidarian! :-D

  21. Honestly, I though mine would be a lot worse (I got 33,400), but I think I will have to do this test many time and look up the words I don’t know :)

  22. I was disappointed at 23k..sigh..not bad for someone who has english as a seconf language.

  23. I can’t conakitschulate any rare and unusual words at present. But your interesting posting has certainly got me incloperulating.

  24. My score was 37,200. I’m kind of a word nerd. lol

  25. An interesting test, which, as usual, does not seem to apply to me. English is indeed my second language, but not by much; my family moved me here at the age of 2 1/2.

  26. Reblogged this on booknvolume and commented:
    You may or may not be surprised to discover the extent of your vocabulary. For me, coming in at 30, 200 words, is simply Astonishing, Ineffable, and somewhat Inconceivable….or…maybe not. ;)

  27. This is so marvelous! I took the test and come out at 28,500 words!

  28. It is always fascinating how we play with language and constantly invent new words. A great browse is the Oxford English Dictionary to follow the amelioration and pejoration of words since their inception.

  29. I took the test and the result surprised me. The number of words I know seems too high for a foreigner & I stumble upon a lot of words I’ve never seen.

  30. Took the test and can’t believe it is at all accurate. I do have a large vocabulary, or it seems: people frequently say so – but not so large as the test suggests. Moreover, Shakespeare’s vocabulary was not restricted to the words he used in his writing. The list above is great and I’ll work some of them in somewhere…would not want to be thought antithalian, and definitely not ultracrepidarian.

    Thanks for another good post.

  31. Some of these are gems! I might just have to work some of these into my vocabulary.

  32. Reblogged this on Book Reviews by Mary DeKok Blowers and commented:
    Fun for authors . . .