Is it possible to pick the greatest word of all time?
Dictionary.Com thinks so and has narrowed down the possibilities to 32.
First Round Matchups
yes vs. no
It’s a matchup for the ages. Every day and often in profound ways, choices between yes and no form the forks that accumulate into the branching paths of our lives. So what’s it going to be: yes or no?
and vs. but
And gives us the precious opportunity to keep going, to add additional thoughts, and requests, and items in a list, and whatever else we want to say next. But but crucially allows us to hit the brakes, to introduce contradictory information or an alternative position.
maybe vs. OK
Maybe is a true blessing: an easy way to be noncommittal. OK is a miracle of near universality and world-class versatility: it can be an adjective, adverb, interjection, noun, and verb (not to mention having a fascinating origin story).
please vs. thank you
The “magic word” itself, please is the key to polite requests and earnest pleas alike. It’s matched up against the term at the other end of such interactions: thank you, the reigning champion of gratitude (yes, technically it’s a phrase, but it functions like a single-word interjection).
um vs. ew
Um gets a bad reputation as the ultimate “filler word,” but try to imagine life without it, with nothing but awkward pauses to resort to when we’re grasping for what to say next. As for ew: just try to express disgust more efficiently.
sorry vs. oops
The world would be a far worse place without a concise way to acknowledge a mistake. There is power in a single, sincere sorry, just as there is catharsis in a well-placed oops. Bonus: both can be wielded sarcastically to searing effect.
hello vs. goodbye
Is there a word more fundamental to what it means to be human than hello? Perhaps there is, and perhaps it’s goodbye. No one likes to say it, but at some point, we all have to.
what vs. why
It’s hard to fathom life without either of these indispensable interrogatives, both essential for posing questions practical and existential.
me vs. you
It’s first person against second person. But remember: everyone is a me and a you, depending on the point of view.
y’all vs. hey
The word y’all, once only a regional favorite of collective address, has broken onto the national scene. But don’t sleep on hey, whose underrated range allows it to pivot from familiar greeting (“Hey!”) to accusatory attention-getter (“Hey!”).
home vs. welcome
Through some kind of linguistic alchemy, home is imbued with the ability to impart some of the same warm feeling of comfort provided by the place itself. Welcome, central to the sacred tradition of hospitality, is proof of the best that we’re capable of.
the vs. thing
A real grammarian’s matchup: the definite article versus the stand-in for any item, tangible or abstract. Good luck getting the English language to function without either of these ubiquitous terms.
love vs. friend
The basis of entire genres of songs, stories, and letters, love is renowned for its use as both a noun and—most famously between I and you—a verb. Love itself may be beloved, but don’t discount the joy of calling someone a friend—and of having the word applied to you.
whoa vs. awesome
This matchup pits pop culture darling whoa against longtime favorite awesome. The latter may seem played out, even after besting cool to make the GWOAT tournament, but don’t underestimate its continued prominence in our informal vocabulary.
happy vs. beautiful
In a field short on adjectives, either one of these perennially popular descriptors could draw the support of those who prize positivity.
lol vs. yikes
The inclusion of lol is sure to rile up the purists, begging the question of whether it’s even a word (and whether we just used begging the question properly lol). And then there’s yikes, a potential dark horse and, according to one analyst, “the Boaty McBoatfaciest competitor in the bracket.”
You can vote on Twitter.
I’m opting for love, because that’s what the world, and people, need most.