How Words Communicate Meaning

Longer words tend to carry more information, according to research by a team of cognitive scientists. That might sound intuitively obvious, until you start to think about it.

For many years, linguists have tended to believe that the length of a word was associated with how often it was used, and that short words are used more frequently than long ones. This association was first proposed in the 1930s by the Harvard linguist George Zipf. Zipf believed that the relationship between word length and frequency of use stemmed from an impulse to minimize the time and effort needed for speaking and writing, as it means we use more short words than long ones. But Steven Piantadosi at the M.I.T. say that, to convey a given amount of information, it is more efficient to shorten the least informative—and therefore the most predictable—words, rather than the most frequent ones.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Love in a time of migrants: on rethinking arranged marriages

Arranged marriages and Western romantic practices have more in common than we might think.

Culture & Religion

In his book In Praise of Love (2009), the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou attacks the notion of 'risk-free love', which he sees written in the commercial language of dating services that promise their customers 'love, without falling in love'.

Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Extreme opponents of GM foods know the least science, but think they know the most

New research on the public's opinion about genetically modified foods illustrates an alarming cognitive bias.

(Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Mind & Brain
  • A recent study compared the public's scientific literacy with their attitudes on GM foods.
  • The results showed that "as the extremity of opposition increased, objective knowledge went down, but self-assessed knowledge went up."
  • The results also suggest that, in terms of policy efforts to boost scientific literacy, education about a given topic alone isn't going to be enough.
Keep reading Show less