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Gherkin, Diphthong, Hornswoggle And Kerfuffle: Best Words Ever?

Filed by KOSU News in Science.
September 23, 2012

“Gherkin” — I like saying it. It’s vaguely Indian sounding. “Kerfuffle.” That’s just fun, with so many F’s packed into three syllables. “Diphthong” is sly because it’s hiding a silent H, the H right after the P; it’s there, but you wouldn’t know it. And “hornswoggle?” Just hearing it, I’m on the deck of a frigate, there are seagulls soaring above, and someone is playing a jig.

One of these four words, the “Final Four” in Ted McCagg’s “Best Word Ever” contest, became a champion this week.

You may or may not agree with McCagg, creative director of an ad agency in Portland, Ore., but it’s fun to watch him sort through his candidates, words he loves. He began (you can find the whole contest on his blog, and there’s an excellent description of his process by Megan Garber at TheAtlantic.com) with an alphabetical round. He and his wife plucked their favorite words out of the air and put them into brackets, a la March Madness. For example, here are their favorite P’s.

Here are their Y’s.

Then the regional winners were pitted against each other, so “kowtow” went up against “kerfuffle,” and “akimbo” fought with “xenophobe.”

“Diphthong” had to anticipate “sphincter” in the later rounds. No doubt at some sports bar in Las Vegas, there were folks betting for “onomatopoeia,” and against “eke” …

… until finally, “hornswoggle,” my personal favorite, for some reason was edged out by a word that describes two adjacent vowel sounds occurring in the same syllable.

The winner, the Best Word Ever, is “diphthong.”

Why “diphthong?” Could it be a subliminal suggestion of sexy underwear? No, Ted told TheAtlantic.com. It was the H. That silent H, he said, “made all the difference.” [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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