A Country’s Favorite Words

To see into the hearts and minds of a people, you can do worse than to look at the word they hold most dear.

No so long ago two thousand Brits weighed in with their favorite word in a poll conducted by a game maker. We discovered the 20 that rank highest in this UK survey.

The number one popular favorite is beyond guessing. So we’ll keep you in suspense by starting from number 20 and working our way up to the favorite and peeling back the onion of the British psyche layer by layer.

Number 20 is understandably, kiss, a term recalling for most of us affection, passion, even dreamy comfort. Just above it in popularity come freedom, bed, cosy, peace, lush, and lovely. Is there a pattern emerging here? But soon enough at number 13we find the word, wicked.

Number 12 departs from Anglo-Saxon with a Latinate adjective, and an odd choice in the 21st century, incandescent. Above it was the thing many of us live for, the weekend.

Next entering the top ten, we encounter -are you ready?- onomatopoeia, which in case you’ve forgotten, means a word that contains or suggests the sound it describes.

Then even more favored come cool, fabulous, squishy -really?- happy and excellent. But maybe the biggest surprise is that the fourth ranking favorite word in the UK is a relatively recent Americanism, discombobulated. Number three is of course, mum. And right above her the word, love.

Which brings us to number one, the word most favored by the largest number of Britons, a word that might shed some light on their inner identity, their common bond, their shared vision. Perhaps if affords a glimpse into the soul of that people.

The most prevailing favorite word in Britain has ancient roots and unknown origins. Michael Quinion does an interesting treatment of it over at World Wide Words. Some suggest it came from the Latin term “non compos”, others that it’s derived from the name of the man who questioned Jesus, Nicodemus, and still others that it began in a Dutch phrase, “nicht om poep”.

Whatever its origin, the word that echoes as the favorite in the land of Shakespeare and Milton, in the realm of Monty Python and Mr. Bean, the one word that the British today place at the top of their list is none other than “nincompoop”.

What more can you say?

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