This is a constant issue on ELU from the very beginning but one that I feel has never been explicitly addressed.
Many questions and corresponding answers hinge on how well known a word is.
For example 'chattel' (a cognate of cattle meaning livestock or people treated as material goods) is not a top 1000 word in English, yet it could be expected to be understood in context by someone with a (recent) college degree (in the humanities). But to say "'chattel' is a common word" is very misleading, as I'm sure many people might not recognize it. But it is way more common than say 'adze' (a hoe-like farming implement).
What I am looking for is an economical but objective way to say how common a word is. Number of hits in a corpus like COCA would be a good start, but it kind of needs a legend to go along with it (other words with their frequencies to show relevant commonness).
Is there some kind of scale that a word can be placed on that objectively says how common a word is and is easily understandable? Something like 'basic - top 1000' '1st grade - top 2000' 'newspaper - top 10K' 'economist - top 20K' 'scrabble player - top 100K' with examples? Or the word levels in freerice.com? ghits (with all its problems)?
We may want to make a FAQ page for this for reference.
Basically we want a Zipf curve for English words and labels (and exemplars) for percentiles (or gross categories). Is there something like this that exists already somewhere?