My last post was about words we don’t like. This one’s about words we do.
To celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2009, the British Council conducted a poll to find out its students’ favourite English words. The top ten were:
In another poll, carried out (I think) in 2004, the Council’s students judged the following to be the most beautiful English words:
In both surveys, people appear to have based their choice on the aspirations or ideals the words stand for, rather than their aesthetic qualities. Love and freedom, present in both lists, seem to be our most cherished ideals.
On a less lofty level, chocolate, at no. 12, almost made it into the top ten in last year’s poll, so the world’s English-language students have clearly got their gastronomic priorities right. Other favourite food words are cucumber (27), cheesecake (43), mushroom (51), peach (54), ice-cream (70), pizza (71) and coconut, in 73rd place. I suspect, though, that cucumber at least was chosen for considerations other than flavour.
My own favourite words (ideals and aspirations aside) are almond, glamour and scent. I also like foible, not for its beauty but for its quirky sound – such a good match for its meaning.
I love almond for its long, smooth syllables, soft consonants and for the mental image it always brings to mind of an almond tree in full blossom. And I adore salted almonds (hard to find in Glasgow!), especially at aperitivo time.
Glamour I love for its sense of bewitching allure, and for its old Scots meaning of magical spell or enchantment. And aren’t allure, bewitching and enchantment wonderful words too?
Scent (no. 66 in the British Council poll) conjures up the scent of roses and of exotic foods scented with spices or with rose or orange water. And what could be more glamorous than the image of a beautifully chic woman sitting at her dressing table and dabbing scent (one of the classics: Arpège, Guerlain, Caron…) behind her ears?
Favourite words welcome in the comments!
By Marian Dougan