25 of the Happiest Words in English

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iStock

Isabel Kloumann and a group of mathematicians at the University of Vermont published a paper in 2012 on positivity in the English language. They took just over 10,000 of the most frequent English words from a variety of sources (Twitter, Google Books, The New York Times, and music lyrics) and had people rate them on a nine point scale from least happy to most happy, collecting 50 independent ratings per word. In the resulting dataset, available here, laughter comes in at number 1 in perceived happiness, and terrorist comes last.

So what are the happiest words in English? They might be nice to hear. But it turns out that positivity heaped on positivity becomes, like sugar or a giant clown smile, sickening after a point. To illustrate this problem, here are the top 20 words: laughter, happiness, love, happy, laughed, laugh, laughing, excellent, laughs, joy, successful, win, rainbow, smile, won, pleasure, smiled, rainbows, winning.

As you go down the list in a binge of positive-word reading, many of the positive words start to sound crass (rich, diamonds, glory), treacly (butterflies, cupcakes, friends), or too obvious (positive, great, wonderful). The following 25 words, shown alongside their rankings, struck me as anchors of true quiet positivity in a sea of toothy grins:

159 – easier
*
172 – interesting
*
205 – honest
*
211 – forests
*
234 – Saturday
*
239 – dinner
*
290 – comfortable
*
320 – gently
*
344 – fresh
*
371 – pal
*
375 – warmth
*
433 – rest
*
449 – welcome
*
491 – dearest
*
504 – useful
*
548 – cherry
*
558 – safe
*
584 – better
*
665 – piano
*
721 – silk
*
741 – relief
*
878 – rhyme
*
892 – hi
*
947 – agree
*
969 – water

Your favorite word—go!

This story originally ran in 2012.

Guess the 100-Year-Old Word or Phrase

From Farts to Floozy: These Are the Funniest Words in English, According to Science

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iStock.com/jeangill

Fart. Booty. Tinkle. Weiner. We know these words have the ability to make otherwise mature individuals laugh, but how? And why? Is it their connotations to puerile activities? Is it the sound they make? And if an underlying structure can be found to explain why people find them humorous, can we then objectively determine a word funnier than bunghole?

Chris Westbury, a professor of psychology at the University of Alberta, believes we can. With co-author Geoff Hollis, Westbury recently published a paper ("Wriggly, Squiffy, Lummox, and Boobs: What Makes Some Words Funny?") online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. The two analyzed an existing list of 4997 funny words compiled by the University of Warwick and assessed by 800 survey participants, whittling down the collection to the 200 words the people found funniest. Westbury wanted to see how a word's phonology (sound), spelling, and meaning influenced whether people found it amusing, as well as the effectiveness of incongruity theory—the idea that the more a word subverts expectations, the funnier it gets.

In an email to Mental Floss, Westbury said that a good example of incongruity theory is this video of an orangutan being duped by a magic trick. While he's not responding to a word, clearly he's tickled by the subversion of his own expectations:

With incongruity theory in mind, Westbury was able to generate various equations that attempted to predict whether a person would find a single word amusing. He separated the words into categories—insults, sexual references, party terms, animals, names for body parts, and profanity. Among those examined: gobble, boogie, chum, oink, burp, and turd.

Upchuck topped one chart, followed by bubby and boff, the latter a slang expression for sexual intercourse. Another equation found that slobbering, puking, and fuzz were reliable sources of amusement. Words with the letters j, k, and y also scored highly, and the vowel sound /u/ appeared in 20 percent of words the University of Warwick study deemed funny, like pubes, nude, and boobs.

In the future, Westbury hopes to examine word pairs for their ability to amuse. The smart money is on fart potato to break the top five.

[h/t Live Science]

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