Bread and Cheese: overlooking the most common words

While it is possible to write a story without “the be of and a in to have it I”, these top ten most frequently used words and their close neighbors form the “bread and cheese” of the corpus of written work in Modern English.    To examine Tolkien’s special way with words, I wanted to skip past the ten thousand most common words, the words which just anyone might use.  I have in time come to call them The Ten Thousand in my idiolect.

The Hobbit has about 96,000 words.  After eliminating The Ten Thousand common words, which account for all but 2 to 5% of the British National Corpus (depending on whom you ask and how they measure), there remain 7,172.  Less-common words comprise 7.5 per cent of The Hobbit.  Ahem.  Now, over a hundred of those words are “hobbit”.  But only one is “bebother”.

Strap on your goggles, it’s going to be quite an adventure.

Please see the Works Cited page for full information on our sources.

Leech, Rayson, and Wilson. Word Frequencies in Written and Spoken English.

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