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November 25, 2004
Mum's The Word: British Council's Worldwide Survey Deems The Word "Mother" The Most Beautiful English Word


To celebrate its 70th anniversary, The British Council, the government agency that promotes British culture around the globe, compiled a list of the 70 most beautiful words in a worldwide survey of non-English speakers. "Mother" is considered the most beautiful word in the English language.

The British Council teaches the language to more than 500,000 people each year. Its aim is to "build mutually beneficial relationships between people in the UK and other countries".

More than 42,000 people from 102 non-English-speaking countries were invited to select their seventy favorite words. About 7000 students in the council's schools were quizzed directly; the rest responded to an Internet poll.

After "Mother" the most beautiful words in the English language, include:

Top Ten Most Beautiful Words

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

Peace was ranked the eleventh most beautiful English word.

Others that made the grade included:

Twinkle (23)
Serendipity (24)
Pumpkin (40)
Banana (41)
Lollipop (42)
Peekaboo (48)
Kangaroo (50)
Whoops (56)
Flip-flop (59)
Oi (61)
Hiccup (63)
Hodgepodge (64)
Fuselage (67)
Hen night (70)

"It's interesting that mother, the only word of the 70 that describes a direct relationship between people, came top of the poll," said British Council spokesman Greg Selby.

Father didn't make the list at all.

Carmella Hollo, a linguistics lecturer at the University of NSW, says that in a similar survey of native speakers in 1980 by London's Sunday Times , the top words were melody, velvet, gossamer, crystal and autumn.

She says people are generally thought to favour words with m, l, r and n sounds, and to dislike f sounds. This may partly explain why mother tops the latest list, yet father doesn't rate a mention.

Professor Anna Wierzbicka, of the School of Modern Languages at the Australian National University, suggests people voted for the top five not so much because they like the words themselves but because they value the concepts they represent, and they would probably have voted for the equivalent words in any language.

"For example, when they say passion, they are not really thinking about the English language, they are thinking about things they value in life."

Inspire & Be Inspired (R).

Here's to healthy, adventuresome, soulful, and "mother-like" living!

~ Jennifer Carolyn King

Posted by jck at November 25, 2004 1:26 PM

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