Scrolling aimlessly through Wikipedia during stats (an activity undertaken by those who have already done the Wordle, Connections, Strands, and crossword in the past four hours) I ran into a Wikipedia page that instantly caught my attention: Most Common Words in English


I couldn’t help but chuckle when I noticed that the most common noun in English was “time.” This fits seamlessly into the Spanish conception of American and British stereotypes: Americans, always worried about maximising their work time and minimising their leisure time, ensuring that no time is wasted; and the British, always worried about being on time. Stereotypes might not always be true, but in my experience, “British punctuality” tends to really exist. 


I then checked the same Wikipedia page for Spanish and found that the (two) most common nouns are años (years) and vez once). This is weirdly but poetically fitting. All Spanish people do is talk about the years that once were: the glory, the empire, the economic growth of Franco, the people pre-mass-immigration. It seems that the middle-aged Spaniard perceives us as a society in decline. For the Spaniard, much more than for any other foreign national I can think of, the past was always better than the present 


Living in France, I then felt obliged to check the same thing but for the French language, and although a Wikipedia article detailing these words did not exist, I did find an (arguably irrefutable) source which claimed that the most common French noun is, wait for it …. homme (man)! Oh the French, always so chauvinistic in both senses of the word. Everything for them is so gendered that even their most common noun focuses on one of the two sexes. One could, however, look at the word homme differently, and assume that the French, in their constant state of drab existentialism, are referring not to man in the gendered sense, but man in the holistic sense, the human. In that case, it seems to line up even better with French stereotypes: drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, pondering the status of man in the world, talking about the homme


Having come to this realisation, I threw myself into a deep psychoanalysis of languages through their most common words, and  investigated the most common pronoun in these three languages. At first, it was a little surprising to see that in both French and English the most common pronoun was I, or in the case of the French, je. However, upon further analysis, I realised my shock came purely from the seemingly coincidental agreement that the two languages had on the importance of the first-person singular pronoun. In reality, neither country is known for selflessness, or for thinking about others in general (or at least in the case of the French, save for when insulting others), meaning that the prominence of the self-referential pronoun should be completely expected. Blame my shock on naivité, I guess. 


If I want to get picky, I could argue that the American “I” feels more self-centred, accentuating American (and English) individualism, as opposed to the French collective mindset. The French “je”, in this pretentious analysis, would then be referring mainly to the introspective self: Je pense, donc je suis


This introspection, however, falls more in line with the most common pronoun in Spanish -se, a suffix added to words to indicate that they are reflexive, that one is doing whatever verb to themselves. Amarse (love oneself), llamarse (call oneself(, etc etc. Fighting against the stereotypes, the Spanish seem to be the most self-reflective of the bunch. Ironically, we aren’t usually known for thinking too hard – it might be that between each siesta we find a small time to ponder. Sleep is good for brain development, yaknow? 


With adjectives, my leading theory – which, for the record, is that the most common words in each language serve as a synecdoche for the entire culture behind the language – seems to break down a little. In English, the most common adjective is “one,” which could be interpreted as referring to American individualism once again? If only Americans thought about their neighbours every once in a while … the world might be a much better place!


The most common adjective in Spanish — más (more) — highlights Spanish greed.. Although Latin Americans might disagree, I don’t feel that Spaniards tend to be particularly greedy – although, again, the Reconquista and the Inquisition (both named after us) may prove otherwise. A second possibility for the most common Spanish adjective is su (their) a possessive adjective indicating that something is owned by someone else. The two seem to play together, we see su object, and we take it. We want más. As horrible as this is, I want to argue that at least we recognise that whatever we want more of is originally someone else’s. The most common adjective in French, meanwhile, mes (the plural “my”) indicates the particular French tendency to claim everything as their own. You need only look at the map of Africa after the Berlin Conference (1884-1885).


While the Spanish and the French languages both have a possessive as the most common adjective, when it comes to verbs, it’s the English and the French that are in concordance, with both having “be”, or être, show up more times than any other verb. I tried to come up with a witty joke about this for the longest time, but came upon absolutely nothing. To me, having “to be” as their most common verb is incredibly boring – which might be a joke in and of itself! The English and the French — mortal enemies, always at odds — now being exactly the same.


Spanish once more reminds us of how far we’ve fallen (from a geopolitical, economic, cultural, and honestly any standpoint), with our most common verb being haber (to have done something in the past). We can’t seem to get past what we once were, even if  it was not at all that great. It is impossible to do better in the future if we only look at the past. It doesn’t seem like we will be much better in the future. Who knows? Hopefully I’m wrong. 


In reality, that is the point I wish to make. I do not know if languages are representative of their users. This brief analysis seems to indicate that they may be, but this is also an analysis based on stereotypes, and contingent ones at best. Not only that, but any of these jokes could be applied to any of these countries. It’s not just Spain that longs for the past, and it’s not just France that’s considers men more often and more highly than women. 

Most importantly, however, the language and words you use do matter for something. They define your mindset and your  point of view. If we keep talking about men, we will never start talking about women. If we keep talking about the past, we won’t plan for the future. If we only talk about ourselves, nobody will ever truly understand or help each other. The way you speak frames your mind. Never forget it, and frame it well.

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