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What's the Most Metal Word?

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What’s the most metal word of all time? Blood? Pain? Death? Guitar solo? (Ok, that’s a phrase.) In a beautiful application of Big Data, one physicist-turned-data-scientist tried to determine the “metalness” of various words by comparing their use in the genre’s lyrics with everyday English. 

It’s definitely more of an experiment than bulletproof science, but the results could be useful for aspiring metal stars who’ve misplaced their thesaurus. As New York magazine's Science of Us notes, the project comes from data science blogger Degenerate State, who scraped DarkLyrics.com (the self-described “largest metal lyrics archive on the web”) to create a dataset of lyrics to 222,623 songs from 7364 bands. Degenerate State then compared the frequency of words in these lyrics with the Brown Corpus, a collection of pre-1961 documents across various genres, to figure out how common certain words are in metal lyrics relative to their use in everyday English. (Both extremely rare and extremely common words were excluded.)

The “most metal” words were found to be burn, cries, veins, and eternity, while the least metal words were particularly, indicated, secretary, and committee. Bureaucracy, it seems, is the opposite of metal. (The full list of most- and least-metal words can be seen here.) 

This isn’t the final word on metal and language, of course—for one thing, it doesn’t account for the possibility that certain words are favored above everyday English for their use as lyrics generally, not just metal lyrics. Shorter, punchier words with more emotional impact seem more likely to appear in songs than in everyday speech. Plenty of love songs use the word “burn,” for example, and they’re not talking about churches. As Degenerate State notes, “A better measure of what constitutes ‘Metalness’ would have been a comparison with lyrics of other genres, unfortunately I don't have any of these to hand.” 

The experiment did yield some other nuggets, including the band with the most swear words, at least in Degenerate State’s database (Five Finger Death Punch) and the most complex wordplay (Pig Destroyer). Longer words also seem to be less metal—although again, this might have more to do with their suitability for lyrics in general rather than this particular genre.

Of course, metal doesn’t rely on lyrics alone. (There’s also all that shredding.) And can silence alone be metal? As Open Culture noted, metal band Dead Territory recently tried to find out, by playing avant-garde composer John Cage’s famed piece 4’33 (four minutes and 33 seconds of silence). The biggest hint, aside from the long hair and brief warm-up, is the mild head-banging that occurs while the band members listen to nothing at all. You can watch below.

[h/t NYMag.com]

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Big Questions
Where Does the Phrase '… And the Horse You Rode In On' Come From?
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Horses may no longer be the dominant form of transportation in the U.S., but the legacy of our horseback-riding history lives on in language. When telling people off, we still use the phrase “... and the horse you rode in on.” These days, it’s rare for anyone you're telling to go screw themselves to actually be an equestrian, so where did “and the horse you rode in on” come from, anyway?

Well, let’s start with the basics. The phrase is, essentially, an intensifier, one typically appended to the phrase “F*** you.” As the public radio show "A Way With Words" puts it, it’s usually aimed at “someone who’s full of himself and unwelcome to boot.” As co-host and lexicographer Grant Barrett explains, “instead of just insulting you, they want to insult your whole circumstance.”

The phrase can be traced back to at least the 1950s, but it may be even older than that, since, as Barrett notes, plenty of crude language didn’t make it into print in the early 20th century. He suggests that it could have been in wide use even prior to World War II.

In 1998, William Safire of The New York Times tracked down several novels that employed the term, including The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972) and No Bugles, No Drums (1976). The literary editor of the latter book, Michael Seidman, told Safire that he heard the term growing up in the Bronx just after the Korean War, leading the journalist to peg the origin of the phrase to at least the late 1950s.

The phrase has had some pretty die-hard fans over the years, too. Donald Regan, who was Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan from 1981 through 1984, worked it into his official Treasury Department portrait. You can see a title along the spine of a book in the background of the painting. It reads: “And the Horse You Rode In On,” apparently one of Regan’s favorite sayings. (The book in the painting didn't refer to a real book, but there have since been a few published that bear similar names, like Clinton strategist James Carville’s book …and the Horse He Rode In On: The People V. Kenneth Starr and Dakota McFadzean’s 2013 book of comics Other Stories And the Horse You Rode In On.)

It seems that even in a world where almost no one rides in on a horse, insulting a man’s steed is a timeless burn.

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
How to Say Merry Christmas in 26 Different Languages
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“Merry Christmas” is a special greeting in English, since it’s the only occasion we say “merry” instead of “happy.” How do other languages spread yuletide cheer? Ampersand Travel asked people all over the world to send in videos of themselves wishing people a “Merry Christmas” in their own language, and while the audio quality is not first-rate, it’s a fun holiday-themed language lesson.

Feel free to surprise your friends and family this year with your new repertoire of foreign-language greetings.

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