I often wonder how formal a words or expression is (e.g. Is “by way of conclusion" more formal than "In conclusion"?). Is there some comprehensive reference that would list the level of formality of words and expressions as accurately as possible?

Ideally I would like to have some crowd-sourced judgment, like Urban Dictionary does for validating a word:

enter image description here

Beyond the level of formality I would also be interested in knowing whether the word or expression sounds flatulent, pejorative, etc: anything that indicate what underlying "feeling" a word or expression conveys when we use it.


'Formality' is, by definition, inextricably linked to the expected convention or etiquette of the people you are addressing, so without knowing ahead of time who the intended audience is, there's no way of saying for certain whether something is 'formal' for the circumstances.

It is, after all, relative, as something that is extremely formal in one setting may be considered casual, the minimum level of formality, or even impolite in another. This varies wildly by country, culture, profession, class, and a range of other variables. Such a comprehensive reference could only come into being if you forced the entire English-speaking world to homogenise...and if you can accomplish that, then I think there are a few other problems I'd rather you look at first - Israel vs Palestine, Iraq, cold fusion, global warming...

That said, the idea of a 'Dernoncourt Scale of Word Flatulence' appeals to my juvenile side. Ratings go from 1 'Toot' (Silent But Deadly) to 10 Toots (Bunker Buster).

| improve this answer | |

I have realized that a similar question had been asked on OpenData: Database of English words difficulty.

They gave two interesting pointers:

  1. (from Nicolas Raoul) The database at http://elexicon.wustl.edu would be a great answer if it were open data. This project measures how long it takes for a human to do a "lexical decision" for a particular word. So far they have measured 1,123,350 reaction times, by 443 humans, with 40,481 words and 40,481 nonwords. It is not yet clear to me what "lexical decision" actually is, but I am pretty sure it correlates or at least is an important factor in complexity.

  2. Determine the difficulty of an english word

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.