That maddening sense of knowing a word but being unable to seize it, slip it into a sentence, and send it out into conversation has a suitably hard-to-remember term: Lethologica. This condition gets its name from the Greek words lethe (forgetfulness) and logos (word).
The prolific David Crystal, charming and brilliant expert on the English language, who has written widely on how we come to understand language and sentence structure, has made a solid case that most of us have upwards of 40,000 words stored between the ridges and byways of our brains. A blog post he wrote in 2010, responding to an idiotic newspaper story wrongly claiming that teenagers have vocabularies of a pathetic 800 words, explains his research in engaging layperson terms.
Inspired by Crystal’s blog and website, I have just ordered his books “Making Sense” and “Words on Words.” His books are available at the usual bookworm-binge sites, including Abebooks for the older ones.
–Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett