One of the interesting things about English, and other languages too, for that matter, is that a relatively small number of words account for a large percentage of everything we read or hear (or say or write). The most frequent 100 words account for about 45%, and the most frequent 7,500 account for about 90%. These 7,500 words appear in red in our online dictionary, and are graded with stars into three bands.
One of the features of frequent words is that the more frequent a word is, the more likely it is to have lots of meanings, lots of different grammatical patterns, lots of collocates… Take take, for example. Our entry has 26 different meanings, and a lot of phrases too.
There’s a lot that you need to know about these frequent words, especially if you’re a learner of English, so it’s hardly surprising that the most frequently looked-up words are high frequency: time, get, make…
Over the last month, the most frequently looked-up low frequency word is albeit. It’s a strange looking word, and one of only a handful of words in English that end -eit. Some others are:
Fahrenheit /ˈfærənhaɪt/ (props to those who object that this is hardly an English word, though you can find it in plenty of English dictionaries).
There are three different pronunciations for the final vowels there, so how should we pronounce albeit? Is it
If you think that might be a trick question, you’re right. It’s none of those — it’s got three syllables and is pronounced /ɔːlˈbiːɪt/, being as it is a compression of all be it, which itself is a mangling of all though it be that. Apparently, according to the OED, before it became fully synthesized there was also a past tense, all were it, which they support with a quote from Chaucer‘s translation of Boethius’s “De Consolatione Philosphiæ”: Al were it so þat sche was ful of so greet age. That Chaucer quote dates back to 1374, a mere 738 years ago, yet it doesn’t really exemplify the usage of albeit as a word which introduces a contrast or change of circumstance.
For a more illustrative example, here’s one from last Friday, in an article about the first wedding anniversary of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, (or Wills and Kate as they’re also known):
Where the couple, and their PR team, have been particularly successful, commentators say, is in projecting the image of a relatively ordinary pair, albeit one that has access to palaces, castles, glitzy red carpets and the odd butler or two.
As to why this particular low frequency word is so frequently looked up — frankly, I have no idea.Email this Post