I rediscovered an old site I'd meant to post about long ago: WordCount. It's another of those interesting visualisation tools, this time showing the commonality of English words. Derived from Oxford University's British National Corpus of 100 million words, it's an obvious practical example of the long tail. Since we get by on an estimated average vocabulary of 21,000 words* (compared to the 86,800 in Wordcount), there's plenty of undiscovered material to play with.
Aside from the interest derived from simply playing with it and learning more about our language, some wags have created games from forming sentences from words appearing consecutively in the list:
"Despotism clinching internet" (seems somewhat prescient of the net neutrality debate)
"America ensure oil opportunity"
"Apple formula: imagination"
Or, of course, you can play the slightly smug vocabulary-testing game, by testing your favourite obscure word and keeping score. Me? I started with a mediocre 'abstemious' (61282nd) but quickly followed it up with an impressive 'ziggurat' (83305th). No triple-word score sadly. There's also QueryCount, which is an exploration of the most frequently sought-out terms, and is of course considerably more profane.
Of course, sites like this don't really have a purpose per se, of course, other than exploration. But isn't it nice sometimes to release ourselves from the current task-based focus of the web, and get back to good old-fashioned surfing?
* For an alarmist aside, read Are iPods shrinking the British vocabulary?.