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Monday, 18 September, 2000, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
UK's favourite word is a surprise
Word survey
Britain's favourite word is a surprise choice
A word which originated from an obscure Persian fairytale is now Britain's favourite.

Serendipity, according to the Encarta English dictionary, is a "natural gift for making discoveries quite by accident".

It originated in the 10th century from The Three Princes of Serendip, an Arabian tale about three princes who had this ability.

One of the most famous examples of serendipity is Christopher Columbus' discovery of America when he was looking for India.

Viagra discovery
Viagra is an excellent example of serendipity

In more recent years, the realisation that a failed heart drug, sildenafil, could cure impotence in men led to the development of the drug Viagra.

That the great British public preferred a word rarely used in common parlance is itself a form of serendipity, according to the The Word, London's Festival of Literature, which commissioned the nationwide survey.

"What the results tell us is that we're gloriously independent and individual in our enthusiasms, we really, really love Harry Potter, and that our vocabulary is versatile, international and a pleasure," said Peter Florence, Artistic Director of The Word.

Britain's second favourite word is Quidditch, the fictitious game of witches and wizards from JK Rowling's Harry Potter publishing phenomenon.
Nation's favourite words
1. Serendipity
2. Quidditch
3. Love
4. Peace/why
5. Onomatopoeia
6. Hope
7. Faith
8. Football/muggle/ hello/family
9 Compassion/home
10. Jesus/money

Both words were more popular than evocative and emotional terms like love (3rd), peace (4th), hope (6th) and Jesus (10th), which might have been expected to top the poll.

Another obscure expression which made the top ten is onomatopoeia, which, according to the Oxford Concise Dictionary, is the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named i.e. cuckoo or sizzle.

Quidditch game
Quidditch was Britain's second favourite word

In keeping with the esoteric choices, the longest word voted for was the lung disease pneumonooultramicroscopics-ilicovolcanoconiosis which contains 45 letters.

A better known choice was supercalafragilistic-expialidocious, from the film Mary Poppins, memorably transposed into "Super Cali go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious" by a Sun newspaper sports sub-editor after part-timers Inverness Caledonian Thistle dumped Celtic out of the Scottish Cup.

Other words nominated included dichlorodiphenyitrichioroethane, antiestablishmentarianism and cockadoodlechucklequack.

The Search for the Nation's Favourite Word coincides with the launch of The London Festival of Literature which runs from September 23 until October 1 at Shakespeare's Globe at Bankside.

It will feature 33 well-known authors, including JG Ballard, Jeanette Winterson, Amy Jenkins and Michael Heseltine.

Over 15,000 votes have been received by the Word via email and postcard since the project launched in May by The Word Festival Trustee, Sir Bob Geldof.

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