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Does French lack accuracy?

Le LittreAn easy way to check the precision of a language seems to be to look at the number of words available in dictionaries. According to Wikipedia, Le Littré has about 70,000 words, and a little bit less for the Larousse and the Robert. However the English language article on Wikipedia tells us that the Oxford dictionary has 600,000 entries while the Webster has about 450,000 entries. This surprising finding might lead us to conclude that French has less vocabulary than English and is therefore less accurate. However, the real difference comes from what dictionaries are in both languages. In English, those dictionaries records (or at least try to record) all words ever used in the English world. In French, the dictionaries try to record words that are (in theory) commonly used, and editors tend to drop out-of-fashion words to replace them with new words therefore giving an idea of the “bon usage” of words at a certain point in time. French dictionaries also tend to avoid jargon. Both approach have their pros and cons. For example, ESL speakers might have difficulties to identify in the Webster which words are commonly used at a point in time. But the French approach might lead people to have to rely on additional dictionaries on technical matters for example.

Appearance can be sometimes deceiving…

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