300 Most Common Words

I wrote in my last post about Zipf’s law, which is a law about probability and word frequency in languages. I noted that the consequence of Zipf’s law is that the most common words turn up a whole lot, and everything else is pretty rare.

What this meant for teaching is that, basically, you should read what’s interesting to you. And for me that’s the best way to go about learning vocabulary. But it is an interesting fact about languages is that they tend to cluster at 50% of the words you find being between 300 and 500 words, and Latin’s no different - 300 words will give you over 50% of all words you’ll encounter while reading - pretty cool, right?

Now, for some this might also present an opportunity - if you could just learn those 300 words asap, you’d make everything a lot easier, right?

Well, yes, but the problem is how to learn them out of context. But I’m not going to crush your excitement, so I’ll give you a list of those words and let you do with them what you will.

But first, a shout out to Paul B. Diederich, who went through the painstaking word of actually counting the words by hand in the 1930s - better him than me!! I’ll talk more about him and his project in a later post.

Anyway, a pdf of the words is here, but it doesn’t have the definitions. It is arranged nicely by declension, etc, so worth looking into, but if you actually want to learn the words separately from reading, you might want to go to this website instead. They have the Latin and the English - not a bad website in general, actually!

Now, it’s up to you how you learn them, but my own suggestion would be by using the Goldlist method. Basically it’s a way of putting words etc into your long-term memory without having to memorise them - sounds pretty good, right? I’ll talk about how to do that tomorrow!

Alexander Westenberg