Digging into Words with Wolfram|Alpha

July 3, 2013
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The Wolfram|Alpha Team
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Even if you’re a pretty big word nut, you may not think of Wolfram|Alpha as your go-to source for learning more about the English lexicon. You might be surprised, then, by the discoveries and computations that you can make with Wolfram|Alpha’s word data.

We just added over 50,000 new words to Wolfram|Alpha’s dictionary, including archaic words such as pythonist (a conjurer or diviner) and technical terms like cosmochronometer, which refers to processes that are used to determine the age of stars (like radioactive decay). Wolfram|Alpha provides word definitions and, when available, other features such as etymologies and anagrams—pythonist, appropriately enough, is an anagram of hypnotist:

pythonist

For some of us, rare words like pyrexic may be less useful for their meaning than for their point value in Scrabble. (Before you ask, it’s 21 points, not counting the 50-point bonus.) Searching on Wolfram|Alpha will give you the word’s point value, a list of words that can be played using the same letters, and an official ruling on whether or not the word is acceptable. (For your edification, pyrexic is “good,” but as of the time of this writing, cosmochronometer and pythonist are not.)

pyrexic scrabble

Wolfram|Alpha can also help you make the best use of double letter scores and blank tiles.

If you’re interested in more common words, Wolfram|Alpha can tell you how frequently words in English have been used over the last several centuries. The words pharmacist and apothecary, for example, have both been used to describe “a health professional trained in the art of preparing and dispensing drugs.” However, Wolfram|Alpha lets us know that pharmacist didn’t enter common use until the end of the 1800s—the same time that the use of apothecary began to seriously decline.

word frequency of pharmacist

word frequency of apothecary

In fact, many of us may only be familiar with apothecary now from its appearance in works like Romeo and Juliet. And, as it turns out, you can use Wolfram|Alpha to tell you how just often apothecary—or any other word—appears in Shakespeare’s famous play:

frequency of apothecary in Romeo and Juliet

Wolfram|Alpha has some interesting word data for many classic works of literature. A quick search can tell us that Hamlet is nearly twice as long as Macbeth, but the average word in Macbeth is 5% longer. Or we could guess what the most common two-word phrase is in “The Raven.” (Hint: It actually isn’t “the raven.”) Wolfram|Alpha can even estimate how long it would take to read a book—so if you’re stuck on a five-hour flight, it just so happens that that’s the perfect time to read Frankenstein cover to cover!

length of frankenstein

Words are the foundation of how we communicate, and we’re excited to keep bringing you new features to examine how they relate to each other and to our culture as a whole. Let us know some of your favorite searches, and have fun exploring!

3 Comments

This is awesome!

Posted by Tal Einav July 5, 2013 at 3:45 pm Reply

It’s very useful.

Posted by Harry Nguyen July 6, 2013 at 7:22 am Reply

I’m spending the rest of my life here. This is so great!

Posted by Ellen July 8, 2013 at 10:55 pm Reply
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