Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Popularity contest

Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal posted a list of the 100 most commonly-used words in the English language. Of course the cool kids all made the list: pronouns, conjunctions, definite and indefinite articles, and helping verbs all have positions of honor near the top. The jocks are well represented too: uh, um, uh-huh and yeah. Even a few bullies muscled their way in: president, Iraq . . .

I thought maybe they'd allowed a foreign exchange student into the ranks of popularity, but then I realized MHM was really just text-speak for uh-huh.

The best thing about this list is it compares word usage in conversation, newspaper, and several American and British corpora. For example, "I" is the most-commonly spoken word, but ranks 30th in newspaper usage ("the" tops that particular list). It's commonality among corpora also varies, where it ranks as high as 10th and as low as 20th.

I am surprised to see that the list did not include any profanity. I have a friend who curses often enough to have made more than one 4-letter gem rise to the top of the list. Apparently she was not surveyed, or they purposefully omitted profanity from the results.

I am disappointed but not surprised that some of my favorites didn't make the list. It's a bit challenging to work "albeit" and "defenestration" into normal conversation. Oh well, there's always next year.

What words do you think need to be added to the list for next year? What words do you most want to see removed?


Angie Ledbetter said...

They could remove all the stuttering U words and maybe add a few with some color and flair. Where's the LOVE or BEAUTY/ART or even POETIC? Really surprised GREEN didn't make the list.

writtenexpressions said...

If they removed all the verbal ticks, the President's speeches would be a lot shorter too! ;)

I was actually surprised "huh" didn't make the list.

As far as buzzwords like "green" (or how about "blog?"), I'm sure they're on somebody's most commonly-used list!