Back in 1935, the American linguist George Zipf made a remarkable discovery. Zipf was curious about the relationship between common words and less common ones.

So he counted how often words occur in ordinary language and then ordered them according to their frequency. This revealed a remarkable regularity.

Zipf found that the frequency of a word is inversely proportional to its place in the rankings. So a word that is second in the ranking appears half as often as the most common word.

The third-ranked word appears one-third as often and so on. In English, the most popular word is the, which makes up about 7 percent of all words, followed by and, which occurs 3.5 percent of the time, and so on.

Indeed, about 135 words account for half of all word appearances. So a few words appear often, while most hardly ever appear. Read more from…

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