Oxford Dictionaries recently embarked on a project to discover the world’s least favourite words, but publicly abandoned the project following “severe misuse” of its online survey. The decision to discontinue its #OneWordMap is understandable, due to the high volume of highly incendiary contributions intended to incite racial and religious hatred (eg. ‘Islam’, ‘Israel’).
But it seems that the survey was abandoned before it even began. The project had already banned the use of a select number of words from contributors. Dan Stewart, the head of international marketing at Oxford Dictionaries, states in The Guardian: “[we] filtered out words marked as vulgar and offensive in our dictionaries, but this wasn’t enough to prevent the misuse”. Does filtering out words not defeat the purpose of the exercise?
“If vulgar or offensive words were not admissible in a contest to find the world’s ‘least favourite word’, then what is left but the proper, the polite, and the neutral?”
If vulgar or offensive words were not admissible in a contest to find the world’s “least favourite word”, then what is left but the proper, the polite, and the neutral? (Believe it or not, the word “hello” was one of the contenders for the title.) Across many cultures, many of our “least favourite words” are “vulgar” and “offensive” by definition, precisely because they have been used to inflict violence and to oppress communities. Unfortunately, this is an occasion when Oxford Dictionaries let their own words get away from them.