What is the estimated number of words in poet John Keats’ vocabulary?

Keats is my favorite poet. My English Literature teacher told the class once, and also gave the number of words in the average person’s vocabulary. I remember being awestruck that he knew so many words although he was only in his 26th year when he died, but I can’t remember the number. Any ideas?

2 thoughts on “What is the estimated number of words in poet John Keats’ vocabulary?

  1. I also am a big fan of Keats and although I can’t answer your question, I know a man who can. Look out for The Thinker. He knows everything that is worth knowing about Keats.

  2. The way that a poet’s “vocabulary” is measured is usually through a concordance, an alphabetical list of words in a particular work that shows every occurrence of that word. Therefore, the complete concordance of a poet’s works would show all of the words used as well as how often. It is probably the overall number of words that your teacher was referring to.

    Linguist Richard Lederer (in “A Man of My Words”) estimates that an average English speaker has a vocabulary of between 10000-20000 words. But only 767 of those words make up 96% of their actual conversation. Other estimates put the number of words regularly used around 2000 or so. In contrast, a concordance of Keats’s work shows almost 9000 unique words (e.g., http://victorian.lang.nagoya-u.ac.jp/concordance/keats/).

    Of course, this may not be the best way to compare vocabularies, since a poet is more likely to call upon their vocabulary more broadly and intensively than the rest of us. But even among poets Keats is noted for his word choice and the ways in which he used language more creatively than most.

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