Is 'Delightful' the New 'Cool'?

The very recent renaissance of a very old word
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This is one of the first images that appears when you do a Shutterstock search for "delightful." (Shutterstock/Olesia Bilkei)

In July 2012, when Marissa Mayer became the new CEO of Yahoo, she told The New York Times about her plans for the company. "My focus at Google has been to deliver great end-user experiences, to delight and inspire our end users," Mayer explained. "That is what I plan to do at Yahoo: give the end user something valuable and delightful that makes them want to come to Yahoo every day."

"Delight" is a fitting goal for tech firms like Google and Yahoo, whose business models rely on keeping users happy—not just occasionally, but daily and over time. "Twitter’s products influence everything from pop culture to politics, delight our users and change lives," a recent job posting for the company put it. An ad for Facebook's head of global recruiting summed up the role thusly: "Facebook will need a recruiting leader to scale while continuing to delight users, candidates, and customers through hyper growth."

It's not just tech firms, though, that are taking (and talking) delight in the world. Everything, it seems, is delightful right now. Literally. Everything. 

I know this, on the one hand, in the most anecdotal way possible: I've recently found myself using "delightful" pretty much all the time. To describe TV shows. And books. And songs. And children. I've dropped the D-bomb while describing blog posts and cat videos and actors (hello there, Jake Johnson) and one particularly twee pair of holiday socks. Last weekend, I used it to describe pizza. 

I know! Pizza. In my defense, it was really, really good pizza. (It was de-licious, you might say. And de-lovely.)

Another thing in my de-fense? I do not think I am alone in finding at least some of the world to be such a total freaking delight. I think, instead, that there is an epidemic (or, if you prefer, a simple abundance) of the sentiment out there—a veritable garden of earthly "delightfuls." Delight is all over Twitter. It's all over Facebook. It's all over (often, warning, with NSFW connotations) Reddit. It's all over the Internet.

Here are some recent headlines:  

This $40,000 TV Is The New Thing To Ridicule With Delightful Amazon Reviews (Consumerist, December 9, 2013)

Delightful 'Six By Sondheim' Leaves You Wanting Six More (NPR, December 6, 2013)

Watch this delightful video of an 81-year-old Nelson Mandela dancing on stage (Washington Post, December 5, 2013)

29 Utterly Delightful Things You Only Find In Britain (Buzzfeed, December 3, 2013

The delightful paper world of ‘Tearaway’ (The Verge, November 2013)

Wes Anderson Honors Fellini in a Delightful New Short Film (Slate, November 2013)

Breaking Bad on Ice Is Ridiculous and Delightful(Slate, October 2013)

And here are some less-recent ones, from last year: 

Insect Discoveries, Delightful and Disturbing (New York Times)

The Most Delightful—and Little-Noticed—Idea in Bill Clinton’s Speech (Slate)

Kathy Griffin's New Talk Show Is Surprisingly Delightful (Gawker)

Inside the Delightful World of Islamic Terrorist 3D Graphic Design (Gawker)

You get the idea.

Nor, by the way, is "delightful" limited to other media outlets. We here at The Atlantic are fans of it, too. 

Doctor Who's 50th-Anniversary Episode: Delightful, Fan-Servicing Chaos (November 2013)

M.I.A.'s Delightful Middle Finger of an Album (November 2013)

'The Trip': A Delightful Movie About Nothing (2011)

'What Are Clothes?' Asks Most Delightful Supreme Court Argument in History (November 2013, via yours truly)

As a matter of fact, we've been fans of delight since the very first page of our very first issue back in November of 1857, when one English dramatist, Douglas Jerrold, was celebrated thusly by James Russell Lowell:

It will be something to remember in afterlife, that one enjoyed the friendship of so brilliant a man ; and if I can convey to my readers a truer, livelier picture of his genius and person than they have been able to form for themselves hitherto, I shall be delighted to think that I have done my duty to his memory.

This is another image that appears when you do a Shutterstock search for "delightful." (Shutterstock/Maridav)

But the question remains: Why do so many of us delight in "delightful" now? On the one hand, I'd say, it's simply a nice, elegant word: light of tone, buoyant of spirit, semantically supple. It's got that long iiii sound—līt—in the middle of it, which is a structure Joan Didion would surely approve of, and which means, among other things, that you're almost forced to smile as you say it. De-liiiiiight-ful. It's also just lovely and lilty and a little bit childlike, the kind of word you might imagine the Pillsbury Doughboy using, were he capable of speech, to describe his giggle. (Hoohoo!) "Delightful" suggests not just charm, but the best kind of charm there is: the kind that isn't trying to be charming. The kind that takes you, just a little bit, by surprise. 

But there is also something, as those tech-firm marketing messages suggest, very specific and very current and very webby about delightful's appeal. (This despite its age: It was introduced sometime around 1200.)

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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