Watch your good language

Watch your good language

Researchers find language reflects the balance of good and bad in the world:

[B]y analysing a corpus of 100 million words of spoken and written English … [researchers] found positive words are used far more often than negative words — just as you’d expect if positive events are more common (to take one example, “good” is mentioned 795 times per million words compared with 153 mentions per million for “bad”).


[T]he researchers say we’ve adopted a number of habits of convenience that reflect the frequent use of positive words in our language (in turn reflecting the greater frequency of positivity in the world). For example, positive words tend to be “unmarked” — that is, the positive is the default (e.g. “happy”) whereas the negative is achieved by adding a negating prefix (i.e. “unhappy”). …. Here’s one more: when stating pairs of good and bad words together, it’s nearly always the convention to mention the positive word first: as in “good and bad” and “happy and sad” rather than the other way around.

I think about this each time I respond something like “fine,” in answer to the American greeting, “how are you?” While I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with it (it’s but a response, not truly an answer), I try to avoid it when I remember to, answering, instead, more descriptively to watch the positive/negative effect take hold.