Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Whats your favourite Word?

People laugh at me when I ask them this question, but I believe that along with favourite colours, actors, actresses one should also have a preference for a favourite word.

While under a damn tough course on Natural Language Processing (NLP) under a super-absent-minded-professor during my masters, I learnt this: The frequency of occurence of a word is inversely proportional to the information contained in it. For example, since the words “the” and “by” occur very often in language, they contain very little information . These will not help you discriminate one context from the other (and hence are excluded by search engines). On the other hand, words like "Camera" or “Photography” occur in very specific context giving us a lot of information about the bigger picture. After stating this, my professor then felt proud to reach a partly-poetic-partly-philosophical-partly-insane conclusion of: "The words which don’t occur in language (meaning, frequency of occurence is 0) have the most information (~ infinity)". [Or to quote the mushy Ronan Keating song, You say it best, when you say nothing at all]. At this point of time, he was very amused with himself, and he laughed and laughed and laughed. And then paused for some time, and finally said, “The time when you don’t write anything on your answer sheets, you know everything”.

I was confuzzled. This simple principle had then opened up a variety of thought for me, and I remember spending a few minutes thinking about it.
Now, I can list my favourite words under the simple premise of the fact, that trapped within a few characters is an entire concept. Hence my favourites: Serendipity, Chiaroscuro, melange and kiasu. Needless to say, I find very few occasions to use them.

Then come words which are neologisms, words that do not appear in the dictionary but should. I remember having this book called sniglets (circulated with a Readers’ Digest subscription in those days) which had a big set of these words: priceless gems with illustrations. I read it over and over and laughed everytime, since these words were very accurate observations of life in general, and were a story by themselves [Eg, Yinkel - n. A person who combs his hair over his bald spot, hoping no one will notice.]

After many years, Merriam Webster has published this list and this. Guys,Wordsmiths and Joke lovers--- feed on it. From the list: I have heard Chillax being used for sometime now. I borrowed “confuzzled”. I particularly like “Polkadodge”.

[For the curious: Prof. Lua Kim Teng retired later that year. I passed the course.]

14 comments:

Sinfully Pinstripe said...

Melange.... yes. that's a beautiful word. let me see, I also like lambent and adrenaline and cadence and rendezvous. even crescendo. And I do use these words often.

But of course my two favourite words are of rather common use. they are 'because' and 'forte'.

Lihtnes said...

Ridiculous
Oxymoron
Boogerhead
Amoebabrain
Spoonerism

Jeeves,Reginald said...

no sinfully says "Incidentally" more than "forte"

My favourite words.(some in combination)
Perfunctory Persiflage
Ineptitude
Chutzpah
Epiphany
Verbal Dichotomy
:)

and common use:
Domestic Violence
Patheticity(original)
:)
:)

Sinfully Pinstripe said...

I hope you rponounce epiphany right, Jeeves. as in eee-peh-funny .

Mo said...

Sinful since you want me to say it: the pronunciation of epiphany is an epiphany in itself. I thought it was ay-pee-funny.

Jeeves, I like chutzpah too.

lihtnes, backwards or forwards, you are still a moron.

Lihtnes said...

Mo, u used "backwards" and "forwards" in the same sentence. is that an oxymoron?
And u used "lihtnes" and "moron" in the same sentence too. 2 oxymorons in a single sentence!!
Thats what i call a Duoxymoron!!

Jeeves,Reginald said...

very funny.

Jeeves,Reginald said...

comment directed at shom obviously
:)

Sinfully Pinstripe said...

Mo: it is eee-peh-funny.

Jeeves,Reginald said...

No Sinful,
its Ver-ee Phu-nee

Mo said...

J... Indeed it is very phunny.

Sin-Gin, drop that damn french accent.

lihtnes, Oxymoron is when you say, "Microsoft Works". You and moron are synonyms

ROhan said...

My Favorite word: *damn .. i forget .. its some work from Mary Poppins .. super-something.* ;-)

ROhan said...

My Favorite word: *damn .. i forget .. its some work from Mary Poppins .. super-something.* ;-)

Mo said...

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

I am dead sure, I got the spelling wrong