Teenage talkers in a car

Teenage Talkers

While driving a car filled with teenagers, and for reasons that are obvious to any parent, a question entered my word-weary mind.

“I wonder how many words the average person speaks in an entire lifetime?”

After a little research it was revealed that in 1984, British writer, actor, broadcaster, self-professed Word Person and Scrabble fanatic, Gyles Brandreth, came up with one estimate…860,341,500 words spoken in a lifetime. Brandreth was so certain his estimate was correct that he included it as the subtitle for his book, The Joy of Lex: How to Have Fun with 860,341,500 Words.

So 860.3 million words certainly sounds like a lot. However, getting our heads around that number requires some perspective. Here goes:

  • In one lifetime, the average person speaks the equivalent of the entire text of the complete 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary (OED) more than 14.5 times.
  • Put another way, the average person speaks the equivalent of the entire 32-volume Encyclopedia Britannica (EB) 19.5 times.
  • Or put yet another way, the average person speaks the equivalent of the King James Bible (Old and New Testament) more than 1,110 times.

Now that’s a whole lot of talking! But, imagine what the number would be if we remained teenagers forever.