A student stood up my class one day. She smiled as she asked a bold question. Her little voice was quivering but audible, “How many words can you write?” To my mind, I could not answer her. We began a class task, searching books, dictionaries (Cambridge and Oxford English), newspapers, everything and anything we could lay our hands on. The task followed each student and I from the classroom. It became an obsession. As time changed our research became simpler. Yet words expanded and multiplied. Eventually journals, magazines, compendiums and the internet came along, and how it grew and grew. We pooled our tasks together. The list for the student grew, even as she did not.
That first tough question was in the year 1948. I was a young teacher then. Just twenty five years of age. It’s now 2022. I’m still writing the list of words. I hope to be finished this decade. I fear our work will never be complete.