English words the world likes…

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:

  1. Love
  2. God
  3. Peace
  4. Awesome
  5. Hello
  6. Freedom
  7. Gorgeous
  8. Sunshine
  9. Health
  10. Happiness

In another poll, carried out (I think) in 2004, the Council’s students judged the following to be the most beautiful English words:

  1. Mother
  2. Passion
  3. Smile
  4. Love
  5. Eternity
  6. Fantastic
  7. Destiny
  8. Freedom
  9. Liberty
  10. Tranquillity

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

10 responses

    1. We’ve just been talking at dinner about immigrants and bigotry (now there’s a word to really dislike!). My favourite Scottish words are “bahookie” (Glaswegian) and the incredibly useful “outwith”

  1. Hands down has to be crapulent followed by loquacious and facilitate. A pleasure to say and the definitions make me smile.

  2. Well, I like to hear the words “of course” because they mean more than just “yes” and I love the German word for this which is “selbstverstaendlich” which is just lovely to say. I also like the work gorgeous because it can be used to describe so many things: food, weather, people (and not just their looks). I also had a friend who used to say it in a lovely Northern English accent, drawling out the first syllable. If I have to chose a word I just like the sound of it has to be the French word “pepin” (pronounced paypun” which means a snag or hitch/problem but can often be used as a gross understatement (sorry I can’t think of an English word I just like saying for the sake of it).

  3. My favourite is ‘overwhelmed’ – don’t really know why! Although just a thought – why can’t you be underwhlemed?

  4. My favourite word, chosen not for what it stands for, but purely for the word itself, is “sonbahar”, the Turkish word for “autumn”. When I hear it, I see the sun caressing the edge of a forest and the tips of trees half hidden in fog and wet leaves that have fallen to the ground. I can instantly smell autumn. Son.ba.har. It resonates physically and emotionally. It echoes strength and melancholy. What a word!

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