Ted McCagg, a creative director of advertising in Portland, Oregon, has devised a process to identify the ‘best’ word ever. It’s taken him 5 years and he thinks he’s finally come to the end of his search.
As the title of this post suggests, the best word ever is … diphthong.
How did he come to this conclusion?
McCagg shared a sort of ‘Final Four’ bracket on his blog, “Questionable Skills” that breaks down the order in which he determined the best words.
He relied on his sense of lexicographical research, science, taste, and common sense to come up with the best words ever.
McCagg got the idea for the project, he told The Atlantic, while sitting in a restaurant. “I was listening to a few people talking at a table near me (I’m a chronic eavesdropper) about their least favorite words,” he explains. “The requisite ‘moist’ and ‘panties’ came up, each met with the collective ‘ewwws.’” It occurred to McCagg how passionately people feel about words — not only in terms of their hatred for certain words (underpants, slacks), but also in terms of their admiration for others. “I started thinking about the words that I loved,” McCagg says. “Ubiquitous. Kiosk. And yes [your correspondent's personal preference among the choices], Hornswoggle.”
He started by pulling out his favorite English words and ordering them in a simple bracket. He then got really into it and tried to organize as many words as he could into brackets. He set up a bracket for words that started with each letter of the alphabet. He also set up a bracket for reader suggested words. (Note: I’m a personal fan of the word Kerfuffle)
How did he narrow down the words so they fit into a bracket?
“I read the dictionary,” McCagg says. “And picked out about 20-30 great words for each letter.” He based those selections on a couple of factors. “For me, it has to be something you’ve heard. Something that sounds fun. Something that’s fun to say. Basically, something, should you ever come across it in day to day life, you stop and think, ‘I love that word.’”
That’s when it got more difficult. McCagg then had to actually started picking one word over another. Quite simply, he says it all just came down to his opinion.
“It’s been amazing the amount of opinions and conversations this has started,” McCagg says. “People love words, as it turns out. It’s quite heartening. One of the best compliments has been from a teacher who said he thought it would be a great thing for him to assign to his English students.”
In the end, it all came down to diphthong versus gherkin? A battle of the silent letter h, it seems. McCagg says the silent ‘h’ in diphthong just really struck a chord and “made all the difference.”
For Your Classroom
What word would you pick as the BEST? How would you go about determining it? This could be a great class project where students are tasked with identifying their favorite word and then to show how they came up with that word and why. Show them McCagg’s method and see what they think!
A Few Brackets
Quotes via The Atlantic