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Yesterday, Randoh Sallihall from sent this note:

Susie Dent has an ever growing Twitter following of 1,1 million unique word lovers to whom she shares her daily word of the day. Word search engine went through Susie Dent's whole Twitter history and analyzed what are the most liked, shared and commented words of the day she has posted.

List of Susie Dent's most popular words of the day:

  1. Word of the day is ‘ingordigiousness’: extreme greed; an insatiable desire for wealth at any cost. (141387 likes)
  2. Word of the day is 'maw-worm' (19th century): one who insists that they have done nothing wrong, despite evidence to the contrary. (114681 likes)
  3. Word of the day is ‘sparple’ (14th century): to deflect unwanted attention from one thing by making a big deal of another. (109082 likes)
  4. Word of the day is ‘recrudescence’ (17th century): the return of something unpleasant after a period of relief. (103422 likes)
  5. Word of the day is ‘malversation’ (16th century): the corrupt administration of power. (92425 likes)
  6. Word of the day is 'filipendulous' (19th century): hanging by a thread. (88913 likes)
  7. Word of the day is ‘circumlocutionist’: one who consistently speaks in a roundabout way in order to avoid addressing a question directly. (77277 likes)
  8. Word of the day is ‘spuddle’ (17th century): to work ineffectively; to be extremely busy whilst achieving absolutely nothing. (75219 likes)
  9. Word of the day is 'sequaciousness' (17th century): the blinkered, unreasoning, and slavish following of another, no matter where it leads. (69710 likes)
  10. Word of the day is Zugzwang [tzoog-tzwung]: a situation in chess (and life) in which a move must be made, but each possible one will make the situation worse. (68422 likes)

A spokesperson for commented on the findings:

"Susie Dent sometimes uses current events to post a word of the day that is relevant to what is happening in the UK. This is why her most popular words of the day are likely also related to past events where she really understood the mood of the crowd. A great example of this is the word 'maw-worm' posted on Apr 12, 2022 her most retweeted word of the day ever (a dig at Boris Johnson during 'Partygate'). In general people love unique and obscure words they have never heard before. It spikes curiosity and it is really fun trying to use such words yourself. Resulting in people laughing and then asking what does 'snollygoster' mean?"

I haven't checked, but I assume that Susie Dent sometimes features obscure or obsolete words that are somewhat more hedonic: pleasance, well-queemness, apricity, contemperation,  honorificabilitudinity, whatever… But if it bleeds, it apparently leads, even if it's a just a word.

It's not obvious that this should always be true everywhere — Peter Dodds et al. found that "Human language reveals a universal positivity bias", PNAS 2015. And Boucher and Osgood framed "The Pollyanna Hypothesis" in 1969, asserting that

there is a universal human tendency to use evaluatively positive words (E+) more frequently and diversely than evaluatively negative words (E−) in communicating.

But perhaps Cassandra beats Pollyanna when it comes to popular interest in learning obscure and obsolete words. Or maybe it's just something about Twitter/X?

See "Sex, drugs, and cognitive psychology" (11/14/2015) for more on the Pollyanna Hypothesis, word-association experiments, behaviorism, etc.



  1. Dwight Williams said,

    August 23, 2023 @ 8:07 pm

    "zugswang" seems particularly made for revival in these days, doesn't it?

  2. Tom said,

    August 24, 2023 @ 5:46 am

    If communication is positively biased, are the journalistic news (and rumors ) miscommunications?

  3. Cervantes said,

    August 24, 2023 @ 7:51 am

    Zugzwang is not particularly obscure, however. Everybody who plays chess knows it. It just doesn't get applied very often in other contexts.

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 24, 2023 @ 8:34 am

    "Recrudescence" is often but not invariably pejorative. Wiktionary's sense 1 has it as "the condition of something (often undesirable) breaking out again, or re-emerging after temporary abatement or suppression," along with two more specialized senses: one medical and pejorative ("acute recurrence of a disease, or its symptoms, after a period of improvement") the other botanical and non-pejorative ("production of a fresh shoot from a ripened spike"). I feel like I've seen (non-pejorative) extended/metaphorical uses of the botanical sense, although I can't quickly google up a good example of that.

    Indeed, although I was not familiar with the word previously, it appears that "filipendulous" is or was also used non-pejoratively by botanists, e.g. "A slightly aromatic, perennial herb; rootstock woody, filipendulous …" That's part of the description of Orthosiphon menthaefolius* in the "Dicotyledons, Part IV" volume of "Catalogue of the African Plants Collected by Dr. Friedrich Welwitsch in 1853-61," published in English in 1900 under the auspices of the British Museum.

    *Wikipedia lists 42 species in genus Orthosiphon, but not that one. Perhaps it has been renamed? The river near which Welwitsch found it (in the Huila region of Angola) is apparently no longer known by the hydronym Welwitsch used …

  5. DCBob said,

    August 24, 2023 @ 9:33 am

    Susie Dent's words are nearly always achieve perfect cromulence.

  6. Jason M said,

    August 27, 2023 @ 12:11 pm

    I don’t hear recrudescence that commonly in the biomedical context, but it also isn’t obscure. In usage that comes to mind, it was employed neutrally as “reemergence” or slightly positive, as in restoration of the homeostatic (i.e., normal) state of a tissue.

  7. David Marjanović said,

    September 5, 2023 @ 3:58 pm

    The w given in the pronunciation of Zugzwang is an oversight.

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