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Study Shows All Languages Skew Towards Happiness

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Yes, even on Twitter, more words—of all languages—are positive than negative.

A team of scientists at the University of Vermont and The MITRE Corporation set out to test the 1969 Pollyanna Hypothesis—which posited that human language skews positive, indicating a overall optimist outlook—by tracking many billions of words across 10 languages and 24 types of sources including books, news outlets, social media, websites, television and movie subtitles, and music lyrics. The researchers published their result in a paper called "Human Language Reveals a Universal Positivity Bias," which appeared in the February 9 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to UVM mathematician Peter Dodds, who co-led the study, this huge study of the "atoms of language—individual words" indicates that language itself—perhaps humanity's greatest technology—has a positive outlook. And, therefore, "it seems that positive social interaction" is built into its fundamental structure.

To create a scale, the team identified about 10,000 of the most frequently used words in each of 10 languages, then had native speakers rate each word—for a total of five million individual ratings—on a nine-point scale of positivity. These ratings were averaged to create a score for each word; in English, for example, "laughter" rated 8.50, "food" 7.44, "truck" 5.48, "the" 4.98, "greed" 3.06, and "terrorist" 1.30.

The study found that a Google web crawl of Spanish-language sites had the highest average word happiness, and a search of Chinese books had the lowest—but more importantly, all 24 sources and all languages scored above a five (a neutral score). Or, as UVM mathematician Chris Danforth, who co-led the new research, puts it, "[we] use more happy words than sad words."

This new research contributes to the same group of scientists' work on a global "hedonometer"—a happiness meter based on language use. They're currently able to track world-wide, and even city-specific, happiness based on Twitter language, but hope to expand beyond the social media platform.

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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language
Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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