Games: Words

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Indy Lifestyle Online
A week ago, on our letters page, Mr John Mitchell commented that the word "ubiquitous" seems to be ubiquitous these days. However, on Tuesday Ms Bernice Pedgley replied, suggesting that however ubiquitous "ubiquitous" might be, "absolutely" is absolutely more so. In order to settle this dispute, I have been investigating the evidence as it appears in our database of a cross-section of British newspapers.

The first table shows the number of articles in which the words have appeared in the last three years, and the absolutely/ubiquitous ratio.

The first thing to notice is that both our correspondents are correct. Even though 1997 has still a month and a half to run, the occurrences of both "absolutely" and "ubiquitous" have already overtaken the totals for each of the past three years. The absolute numbers of absolutelies are, not surprisingly, consistently higher than the ubiquitouses, but it is interesting to note from the figures in the last line that the ratio between the two figures - the number of absolutelies per ubiquitous - is showing a slowly rising trend.

The monthly totals for both words, however, tell another story: October 1997 has the highest recorded monthly total for both words. Most oddly, October, April and August fill the top three places on both lists, suggesting that an underlying factor may be at work. The pleonastic phrase "absolutely ubiquitous" has been spotted only four times since 1993.