Word frequency game

August 13, 2014

The Red Words Game from Macmillan Dictionary is a new and addictive bit of fun that tests your awareness of word frequencies. It’s named after a feature of the dictionary, the so-called red words and stars.

The idea is that the core vocabulary of English has 7500 ‘red words’, comprising 90% of the language in Macmillan’s huge general corpus.¹ Macmillan Dictionary gives red words special treatment, describing their grammar, collocations, register, and so on. Three-star words are the 2500 most common, two-star words are next, then one-star words.

To play the game you guess how many stars a random series of words have, for 90 seconds. I’ve been scoring 225–300, but to get more than 300 I’d need more luck and free time than I have at the moment. It’s just maddening enough to make you feel hard done by and want another go, like when I had 250 points with 30 seconds to go and got every answer wrong after that.

There are bonus points for fast answers, so don’t dally. The tricky bit is not letting the answers distract you (implication has three stars, anonymous just one!?).² Watch out too for grammatical class, which appears under the word, as sometimes it will affect your answer. For example, the verb find has three stars but the noun has just one.

If you want to pass a few entertaining minutes, go play. It’s even subliminally educational.


¹ Link and description updated for accuracy.

² I suspect anonymous will gain a star or two when more recent data are included in the categorisation.

Usage Peeve Bingo

January 16, 2013

If you search Google Images for “buzzword bingo”, you’ll see how popular a game (or pretend game) it is. Some examples were probably inspired by Dilbert, veteran victim of business jargon:

Dilbert - buzzword bingo

By comparison, bingo cards of grammar/usage peeves are surprisingly rare. On Twitter recently I described a Guardian article as “peever’s bingo” because it contained so many timeworn usage peeves, like literally and whom.

Maybe I had this comment by LanguageHat at the back of my mind. In any case, author and ex-copyeditor Scott Huler replied that an actual bingo card of pedantic peeves would be a good idea. So here it is:

Read the rest of this entry »


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