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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 November, 2004, 14:39 GMT
Mum's the word, says the world
Mother and baby
Mother was most loved, while father was absent
Mother is the most beautiful word in the English language, according to a survey of non-English speakers.

More than 40,000 people in 102 countries were polled by the British Council to mark its 70th anniversary.

Mother, passion, smile, love and eternity were the top five choices - but father did not even make it into the list of 70 words.

But some unusual choices did make the list, such as peekaboo, flabbergasted, hen night and oi.

1. Mother
2. Passion
3. Smile
4. Love
5. Eternity
48. Peekaboo
50. Kangaroo
61. Oi
63. Hiccup
70. Hen night
Fantastic, destiny, freedom, liberty and tranquillity rounded out the top 10.

The British Council promotes the learning of English around the world and teaches the language to more than 500,000 people each year.

Chris Wade, director of communications at the council, said the most favoured choices in the list were all strong, positive words.

He said: "All of us have a mother and have a reasonable idea of who that person is, it's one piece of certainty we can have and it's also a very powerful word in a variety of cultures.

Oi is not a word that I would've thought turned up in English manuals all that often
Michael Quinion

"But I wonder if we would have had the same result if we had done the survey in the UK."

He said the list showed the diversity of the English language: "There are words denoting concepts that people aspire to, like freedom; words that sounded fun like peekaboo and others that aren't really words at all but they convey real meaning, like oi."

Other words to make the top 70 included serendipity, loquacious, kangaroo and zing.


There were also words imported from other languages, such as renaissance and aqua.

Kangaroo and joey
Presumably, a maternal kangaroo would be highly rated indeed
"We'll grab anything we can take. Lots of words have been stolen over the years," Mr Wade said.

"But while other languages may be reluctant to use our words, [this has provided] a real richness in the English has evolved."

He said one English word to have gained widespread usage recently was flip-flop, which came 59th in the survey.

Failed US presidential candidate John Kerry was accused by the Republicans of having "flip-flopped" - or changed his stance - on a number of policy areas.

"Flip-flop was used a lot during coverage of the US election. If the survey had been done a year ago it probably would not be in the list," said Mr Wade.

Michael Quinion, whose recent book Port Out, Starboard Home examines some of the quirks of the English language, said it was a very "eclectic" list.

He said: "These non-English speakers certainly have wonderful English vocabularies.

"There seems to be a curious mixture of the formal and the colloquial. Oi is not a word that I would've thought turned up in English manuals all that often."

The list also included what Mr Quinion said was his own favourite English word - serendipity, which came 24th.

"It's so mellifluous but it's such a nice concept too."

What do you make of this survey? What is your favourite English word? Send us your nominations using the form below.

My favourite word at the moment is Friday, followed closely by annual and leave.
Mandy , Derbyshire, UK

I'm a teacher at the British Council in Varna. My students' favourite word is creepy crawly!
Jo Lloyd, Varna, Bulgaria

My favourite English word is mellow.
Alison McCarthy, Taunton, UK

My favourite English words include daughter, freedom and serendipity.
Jean Flowers, Ottawa, Canada

Phonetically, I have to say I'm rather fond of 'Curmudgeonly'
Chris, Bristol, England
For their meaning, 'Love', 'Warmth' and 'Friend' are the nicest words in English. Phonetically, I have to say I'm rather fond of 'Curmudgeonly', 'Scoundrel' and 'Boing'.
Chris, Bristol, England

I've always liked 'salacious.' It sounds like what it means, and conjures images that are instantly as seductive as the word.
Mike, Minneapolis, USA

Twaddle. Is most underused and is probably not used by the World Service; that's why it didn't make the list!
Chris Lee, Hyde Tameside UK

Where's 'Peace'?
Tim, Leeds

Favourite word has to be superfluous - a word about removing unnecessary items that uses more than its fair share of vowels!
Olly, Birmingham

My favourite English word is news because it have the first letters from north, east, west and south which are the directions from which news comes from! I find it a very nice accident
Musaab Al-Saleem, Auckland NZ

It's... supercalifragilisticexpiallidocious!
M. Poppins, London, England

My favourite is sesquipedalian - it sounds so nice, even before I looked it up - and it even means "given to the use of long words" - perfect!
Isobel, Salisbury, UK

My favourite English words are Bubble and Ferret
Debbie, Kings Langley

"Gobsmacked" would definitely be my nomination. I'm quite surprised it's not on the list. In fact you could say I'm... well, you get the idea.
Tomasz, London, UK

"Manure" is my favourite word because (ignoring the meaning), phonetically it is beautiful.
Alix Courtney, Cambridge, England

My favourite word is "plump", it sounds exactly as I think it means, soft warm and comfortable!
Joanna, Grimsby, UK

Steve Tiller, London, England

I like this article very much, because, my mother died when I was only 15 and my dad when I was 7-years-old, when my son was admitted to school, on the first day he learned the word mother, and asked at home: "Mummy, you are my 'mother' and the teacher told me in English and I came to know this word today." I was so exited to know this.
Fareed, Sharjah, U.A.E

"Arse". Gently unpleasant, without being obscene.
Tim, Bangkok

My favourite English words are Bubble and Ferret.
Debbie, Kings Langley, England

"Bazooka" is easily my favourite word in the English language. It looks good on paper, it sounds great in your head, and it's fun to say.
Jon, Denver, United States

"Arse". Gently unpleasant, without being obscene. And - in contrast with "ass" - so very, very British.
Tim, Bangkok, Thailand

I really like words which are have three or four distinct syllables. My favourite? Octopus.
Howard Dickins, Cardiff, UK

I teach English here. The word I tend to hear the most is "no!". So I would have to nominate my favourite English word as "Yes".
Jim Sharman, Skelleftea, Sweden

Peace. Why is peace not on the list for the most favourite word? Don't we all need peace?
Imee Clark, Minnesota, USA

Sad that "daddy" didn't make it into the top ten words, at least. I happen to like "masculine" but, also, "butter."
Timothy Spruill, Freedom, New Hampshire, US

I am puzzled that the word "Hello" is not on the top ten list. In fact it should be no.1, most spoken by all, all over the world, who speak a little English.
Hansan Ma, Hong Kong

My husband votes for "flummoxed," and "shell-shocked." I like "decadent."
Stephanie, Eugene, Oregon USA

Sophisticated is a word for which we have no equivalent in Dutch and it simply has a very 'sophisticated' sound to it.
Claire, Aerdenhout, The Netherlands

Indeed. A fantastic cover-all word that commits to very little. "Do I look nice tonight?" "Indeed, dear", etc.
Michael Bryan, Brussels, Belgium

Fliffus (a trampolining term) has always struck me as quite fun.
Gareth Gullick, Great Bookham, UK

"Condescending" is a quintessentially English word.
SKM, Oxford, UK

Spontaneous is a beautiful world. It leaves sweetness in your mouth.
Gopal Sharma, Loughborough

I like the word Irksome, it sounds like it should mean more than it actually does.
Chris Redgrave, Concepcion, Chile

My favourite is "oops-a-daisy'! The children I teach English to all love it too!
Ruth, Kiev, Ukraine

'Lust' expresses all manner of sins and pleasures. Yummy!
Steve Loczy, Bedfordshire, UK

The greatest word in the English language? Spatula.
Alistair, Norwich, England

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