September 6, 2016
Mankind ruins Oxford Dictionaries’ Least Favorite Word Contest in one day
by Ryan Harrington
In late August, Oxford Dictionaries, publishers of the venerable Oxford English Dictionary, launched a contest to determine the English-speaking world’s least favorite word. The hope was that many thousands of people would respond (via #OneWordMap), creating a data set that could tell us the least favorite words of many different demographics. The hashtag would eventually be used to source other language data as well.
And things went pretty well, at first. An early 8,000 respondents registered “moist” as the least favorite word in the UK, US, and Australia — a bias confirmed by science. The runners-up seemed to reflect humanity’s innate positivity and sociability, with “no,” “hate,” and “can’t” clustering close to the top of the chart of reviled words. A representative from Oxford University Press, Daniel Braddock was optimistic, saying, “It’s hard to say how much response we’ll get, but we’re hoping for somewhere in the region of 30,000. I’m just hoping people find it interesting enough to share it, which will help contribute to the numbers.”
Hope! Sharing! Contributing! The most commendable aspects of our noble human experiment!
But no, we are wretched, irredeemable creatures, all. And only a day after the contest began, this note appeared on its homepage: “Update: We regret to inform users that due to severe misuse we have had to remove this feature from our website.”
And, just like that, we had turned the cross-cultural linguistic project into nothing more than a high school bathroom stall full of hate speech and cussin’. While the publisher had taken steps to avoid anything like this “severe misuse”—making it impossible to submit words flagged as “vulgar” in the dictionary—you can’t stop the indomitable human spirit. Indeed, religiously offensive responses were especially popular, and easy to slip by the filter.
As Alison Flood reports in the Guardian, the head of international marketing for the dictionary had this to say:
Yesterday, we launched an initiative on oxforddictionaries.com, #OneWordMap, which was intended as a way to encourage a positive engagement with language. Unfortunately, and despite our attempts to prevent negative behaviour on this site, we have had to take down the site. Whilst this is disappointing, we strongly believe in the importance of engaging with the wider community to enhance our understanding of the English language, and will continue to investigate ways of doing so.
You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you. God damn you all to hell.
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.