Writing with a limited vocabulary can be a difficult but rewarding exercise because it forces writers to be inventive with language and discover new ways to convey meaning with a few words.
Regardless of the benefits that I just mentioned, it would be a tall order for most of us if someone told us to write an entire book using exactly 50 words.
However, there was a children’s book writer who did this exact thing. The writer was able to create a fun and engaging story using just 50 different words, which has helped to make the book a classic for children and adults alike.
But which book is this that uses 50 different words to tell a whole story?
Read on to find out.
Which Book Uses Exactly 50 Different Words
Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” has a vocabulary of only 50 words. The protagonist of the book, Sam-I-Am, tries to convince the narrator to try green eggs and ham. To make reading enjoyable and interesting for young children, the story is written in rhyme and uses a simple vocabulary.
The 50 different words used in the book are (in alphabetical order): a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.
Why Did Dr. Seuss Only Use 50 Different Words?
Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) used a limited vocabulary in “Green Eggs and Ham” as a creative challenge set for him by his publisher, Bennett Cerf. According to the story, Dr. Seuss accepted a wager from the co-founder of Random House that he couldn’t write a book with only 50 different words. Dr. Seuss had written The Cat in the Hat using 236 words, but the publisher did not believe Seuss would write an entire book with a vocabulary smaller than that, so the challenge was born.
Cerf stood to lose a hard-earned $50 (money that would be around $400 in today’s money), and Dr. Seuss made sure that Cerf never saw that money again.
The result was a book that would outlive both Cerf and Dr. Seuss, a classic we now know as “Green Eggs and Ham,” one of the most well-known and timeless writings by Dr. Seuss.
Other Fun Facts About Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham”
- Dr. Seuss was a pen name used by Theodor Seuss Geisel.
- Well-known chefs including Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray created recipes that were inspired by Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.
- The book has appeared in several adaptations. The latest adaptation is a Netflix animated comedy adventure series, Green Eggs and Ham, which is loosely based on Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.
- The Green Eggs and Ham made life a bit miserable for Dr. Seuss because he was continually served unpalatable green eggs and ham-inspired meals.
- On September 21, 2007, the U.S. District Court Judge, James Muirhead, referenced the book in a court ruling. A prisoner, Charles Jay Wolff, mailed an egg to the Judge from protesting against his prison diet. The egg was then ordered to be destroyed, and Muirhead delivered his decision in Dr. Seuss fashion.
- Out of 50 different words, 49 have only one syllable. The only word with more than one syllable is “anywhere” (3).
- In 2001, Green Eggs and Ham was in 4th position on Publishers Weekly’s all-time list of best-selling children’s books.
- The book was the third-ranked most popular children’s book in a 1999 online survey conducted by the National Education Association (NEA). Children and teachers ranked Green Eggs and Ham one position above The Cat in the Hat, another Dr. Seuss classic.
- Green Eggs and Ham is available on Amazon in 60 formats and editions, which include hardcover, audiobook, and e-book.
- Over 8 million copies of Green Eggs and Ham have been sold worldwide.
- In 2012, Green Eggs and Ham was ranked the 7th Greatest Book for Kids by the Scholastic Parent & Child magazine.
- Green Eggs and Ham also made it to the United States Senate when Senator Ted Cruz read it in a speech against Obamacare.
- The book has also been an artistic inspiration for many celebrities with musician Will.i.am stating that his moniker was Dr. Seuss’ story.
Other Books That Use a Limited Vocabulary
Green Eggs and Ham is an extraordinary story; however, there are a few examples of books that use a limited vocabulary:
- “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss: This rhyming children’s book uses a vocabulary of just 236 unique words. In total, The Cat in the Hat has 1,626 words, 54 of which appear only once and 33 appear twice in the entire book.
- “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle: This book uses a vocabulary of about 300 words, many of which are repeated throughout the story.
- “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown: The book was written using just 130 words, twenty of which are “goodnight.” Brown used a simple and rhythmic verse that casts a sleep-inducing spell on children across the globe.
You should note that the vocabulary used in a book can vary greatly depending on the intended audience and the purpose of the book. For example, all the books that I have listed are children’s books, and considering how small a child’s vocabulary is, this may be the best way of writing such books. Such books use a more limited vocabulary to appeal to young readers or to facilitate language learning, while books designed for adults use a more expansive vocabulary to convey complex ideas or to challenge the reader.
Dr. Seuss was a genius, a legend in the children’s book genre. And it’s funny to think that among his many literary achievements is a classic that started as a $50 bet.
Green Eggs and Ham became a game changer in its time, and with just 50 words, it was the most suitable for kids. It still is.
More than three decades after Theodor Seuss Geisel’s death, the book is still selling a lot of copies and is about to surpass 10 million copies sold.