There is somewhere north of one million words in the English language. According to people who study such things, a decently educated high school graduate knows about 45,000 (or up to 60,000, if we start including proper names and foreign words). If you’re a college graduate and beyond, that number can reach as high as 75,000 words.
But that’s words we know and understand. How many words does the average person actually use as part of their normal everyday vocabulary? That’s a little tougher. I’ve seen numbers ranging from 5,000 to 12,000. An oft-quoted stat is that Shakespeare was an especially loquacious bastard having used exactly 28,829 different words in all his works. Scholars say this suggests he knew more than 100,000 words. Wow.
It makes sense that people who make their livelihood with words–novelists, poets, speechwriters, technical writers and so forth–would have the largest vocabularies. But what if we’re to zero in on music?
Matt Daniels is a coder and data scientist from New York who was curious about the vocabulary of hip hop artists and rappers, people who need to know the language if they’re going to express themselves they why they wish. To determine some kind of number, he drew up a list of rappers and analyzed the first 35,000 words of their recorded works and counted the number of unique words.
The vocabulary champion seems to be Aesop Rock who used 7,392 unique words followed by GZA at 6,426. Comparing things to Shakespeare, he used 5,170 different words in his first 35,000. Impressive.
Drake, on the other hand only used 3,522 unique words, 624 fewer words that, um, Insane Clown Posse.
There’s a great infographic that details more of this data here.