Why 'sex' and 'fight' have stood the test of time: Scientists say 'exciting' words most likely to survive in our language
- Words that are 'exciting' persist in our language in a 'survival of the fittest' manner
- Words related to things people can see or imagine also endure
According to a new study, words like “sex” and “fight” are likely to stand the test of time because they are arousing.
Research has shown that words that are 'exciting' persist in our language in a 'survival of the fittest' manner, similar to natural selection.
While the recent Word of the Year announcement explores new words such as 'rizz' or 'situationship', experts wanted to explore why some words survive in our modern language and others do not.
The first part of the study involved an experiment in which more than 12,000 people were asked to retell a collection of thousands of short stories averaging 200 words.
For the second part, psychologists analyzed millions of language words from fiction and non-fiction books, newspapers and magazines, over hundreds of years, from 1800 to 2000.
According to a new study, words like “sex” and “fight” are likely to stand the test of time because they are arousing (stock image)
The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed that the words with the strongest lasting power include those acquired earlier in life, and words that are more arousing, including “sex” and “fight.”
The researchers said that 'exciting' words tap into feelings of excitement, with highly arousing words evoking excited, stimulated, frenzied, nervous and wide-awake feelings.
They also found that words related to things people can see or imagine, called “concrete” words, are more likely to survive.
For example, 'cat' is more concrete than 'animal', which is more concrete than 'organism'.
The researchers suggest that these findings shed light on how the human brain processes and filters information – a process known as 'cognitive selection'.
Research has found that words that are 'exciting' persist in our language in a 'survival of the fittest' manner, similar to natural selection (stock image)
This becomes crucial in today's world, where different forms of information are constantly competing for our attention, they said.
Thomas Hills, professor of psychology at the University of Warwick and author of the study, said: 'Information is a complex organism that is constantly evolving as it undergoes cognitive selection in our minds.
'Languages change as a result of social, cultural and cognitive influences. Information environments evolve as a result of war, disease, population changes and technological innovations.
'However, the mind remains relatively stable and can exert lasting influence on language evolution. This cognitive selection influences what will persist in an information market.
'Our research shows that properties such as early acquisition, concreteness and arousal give linguistic information a selective advantage.'