In Books, Movies, and Media, the Most Popular Title Word Is 'New'

Don Draper was right: “The most important idea in advertising is new.” 

A new study reports that the most common three English words in titles—of books, movies, and other media—are “new,” “report,” and “study.” 

The development (fourth most popular) came after the researcher Roy Tennant conducted an analysis (word #5) of WorldCat, a global database of library holdings. Worldcat tracks more than 1 billion titles across 72,000 libraries. It’s managed by OCLC, an international (word #8) library collective and Tennant’s employer. 

You’ll notice the results skew to the scholarly: Worldcat encompasses many university libraries, and the academic quality of their holdings definitely shows up in the data above.

Tennant’s work fits into a long history (word #6) of efforts to figure out verbal popularity. The ur-effort, by the makers of the Oxford English Dictionary, determined that the most popular English word is “the,” but similar studies have looked at heavy metal lyrics and romantic films and spoken conversations in Ohio.  

But titles are a little different—they’re not quite content, and more like advertisements for what’s inside. “New” is a crucial word in headline writing, after all— and, as a character in Mad Men famously declares, “the most important idea in advertising is new.” 

So it’s no wonder “new” still wins—the old word that’s incredibly important to books like the New Atkins Diet, the Inner History of the New America, and the New Testament.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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