In the decade that Mississippi State classics professor Robert E. Wolverton Sr. has released his survey of ugliest and most beautiful words, he has noticed a trend–fewer religious words.
When the survey began, he thought the number of religious words appearing on the survey made sense, since most enrolled at the land-grant university come from Southern small towns where churches typically are centers of great social influence.
With subsequent surveys given every two years, Wolverton said, “There’s much less showing up having to do with a religious life.”
Among other things, he attributes this to changing of the times. With increased use of smart phones and other portable digital communication devices, he predicted more technology related words likely would be found on future lists.
“I’m surprised nobody really got into words that have to do with their Blackberries and their media,” he said. “Nobody mentioned them.”
So, which ones topped the list this year?
For the ugliest words, “moist” placed first with 12 mentions, while “phlegm” was second with 11 mentions. Other ugly words included “hate,” “ooze,” “vomit,” “putrid,” “grotesque,” “mucus,” “puke,” “pus,” “scab,” and “ugly.”
As for the most beautiful words, “love” had the most mentions with 14, while “eloquent” ranked second with 11 mentions. Others included “faith,” “plethora,” “serendipity,” “epiphany,” “lullaby,” “rain,” “beautiful,” “beauty,” “grace,” “Jesus,” “lovely,” “philosophy,” “serene,” and “symphony.”
Wolverton said a curiosity to learn what words MSU students viewed positively and negatively led him to create the survey. In the exercise, he also instructs participants to list a “top three choices” in each category.
Over years of surveying, Wolverton said he’s found that words with Latin origins and those with multiple syllables have high chances of being identified as beautiful. He also noted that more ugly words are one or two syllables, many of which have Germanic origins.
This year’s canvass of 125 students involved 70 women and 55 men. By class, there were 50 seniors, 25 juniors, 15 sophomores, and 35 freshmen.
For the most part, Wolverton permitted the inclusion of any word the participants felt appropriate, although he did prohibit any of George Carlin’s famous “seven dirty words.” He also ruled out “Ole Miss.”
He asked students to make word selections based on their sound, not meaning. Acknowledging an occasional difficulty in following this requirement, he cited the word “mother” as an example where students usually couldn’t separate definition from perceived beauty.
“It’s not really a beautiful sound,” he said. “But, it’s something that everyone has such a high regard for.”