I started looking for this feature to start an answer for: Tete-a-tete commonly known in English?

I'm pretty sure Dictionary.com used to have a little side bar where it said something like "most English speakers probably know this word." I don't know whether it was reliable or not, I haven't used it in years.

But, I can't find it anymore. Did they get rid of this feature? I can't find any articles announcing its retirement, either.

  • Note that other dictionaries provide similar information such as M-W : tête-à-tête noun - Popularity: Bottom 50% of words - merriam-webster.com/dictionary/t%C3%AAte-%C3%A0-t%C3%AAte
    – user 66974
    Aug 31, 2018 at 21:06
  • 1
    @user070221 That's not really the same thing. "Moo", for example, is in the bottom 30% of words (meaning it's not very popular—less popular than tête-à-tête it seems), but I'd say that most people know what it means.
    – Laurel Mod
    Aug 31, 2018 at 21:14
  • @Laurel - well, what we think people know or should know is not based on anything scientific, just personal impressions. I guess their results are probably backed by research.
    – user 66974
    Aug 31, 2018 at 21:18
  • @Laurel Are you sure M-W is measuring # of searches for a word (popularity) instead of # of occurrences in text (frequency)?
    – Mitch
    Aug 31, 2018 at 21:39
  • @Mitch I think it is # of searches. On words that are "trending right now", such as "culture", it just says "trending" and for "the" it says "top 1% of lookups". This makes it pretty unsuitable for measuring difficulty: are people not looking it up because they never heard of it before or because they know what it means?
    – Laurel Mod
    Aug 31, 2018 at 22:03
  • @Laurel 'Trending now' is only # of searches/lookups people have done recently and has as you point out nothing to do with frequency of appearance in texts. Sadly, MW has nothing about frequency (unlike OED and Collins)
    – Mitch
    Sep 1, 2018 at 0:36

1 Answer 1


According to Archive.org, the difficulty meter was still live on their site as of November 23rd, 2017 and gone on December 5th, 2017 (and thus it was removed sometime between those dates). As you can see from those two links, they also used to have something telling you the word's score in Scrabble and Words with Friends, which was also removed (though at an even later date). If you still want the information, you can check Archive.org.

As of 2022 (maybe earlier), it looks like they've added back this information. Some entries "show[] grade level based on the word's complexity". For example, premillennialize is "post-college level".

I remember looking for as much information as I could on this pre-2018 and finding no information on how they actually came up with the difficulty whatsoever (thus preventing me from trusting it). I also don't think the difficulty information was available via any API (which would have been nice news for programmers).

  • 1
    I feel like it was definitely around for a lot longer than a week last winter ... I remember seeing it years ago. Aug 31, 2018 at 21:00
  • @AzorAhai I'm not sure when it was added, but the last time it was on the site was sometime in that week. Hopefully editing made things clearer.
    – Laurel Mod
    Aug 31, 2018 at 21:10

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