Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Words We Use - 2

I originally posted on sexual terminology back in June, and asked for your responses. I learned a lot as a result.

One of the things I learned was the limits of a free basic account from Survey Monkey. You're only allowed 100 responses. That explains the people who emailed me saying that they tried to take the survey but weren't allowed. Oh well. I'm sure that getting 500 responses would have given much more reliable data than a mere 100, but what are you gonna do?

The second thing I learned was how hard it is to create a good survey - at least the first time around. Amazingly, of all the people who put in their two cents to tell me what I should've done differently, my sister wasn't one of them, and she's a professional statistician.

The third thing I learned is that sometimes life throws you surprises.

As you may recall, my original premise was that almost no one uses the "proper" the "formal" the "clinical" terms behind closed doors, and I was secure in the knowledge that the survey results would substantiate my hunch.

Well, the first 14 results came in and they proved me right. 67% of the people said that there were "formal" and "informal" terms as opposed to "proper" and "street," and 67% of the people used the "informal" terms in private.

I was totally taken by surprise, however, when the next 16 results came in and flipped the responses almost exactly. That's right - 67% of the people not only thought that there were "proper" terms to use, but they were actually using them in private. So much for those medical terms being cold and clinical.

As the results inched toward the 80s, I could see that they were actually converging on 50/50. This was still an incredible shock to me. I just couldn't wrap my head around the idea that so many couples were using what I considered to be cold, clinical, medical terms when they were being "romantic" (OK, so I guess this tells you a lot about what terms we use).

Some of my colleagues thought I had lost my mind in asking them these questions, even anonymously. One even went so far as to refuse to take part in the survey because she was sure I was collecting this data for some other nefarious purpose. But really, words are my business, and I want to know about what words people really use.

So what are the "final" results from my sample size of 100 people? 32% of the people think that there are "proper" and "street" terms while 68% think that there are "formal" and "informal" terms. That's an overwhelming majority. Surprisingly, however, when it comes to what terms people actually use, 42% used the "proper" or "formal" terms while 58% used the "street" or "informal" terms. The informal people were still in the majority, but the formal people were a much larger percentage than I thought. But then again, as I've already said, this whole thing is probably skewed by the incredibly small sample size (you see, sometimes size does matter).

I still suspect that a much higher percentage of people use the informal terms than this survey was able to show, but I think I'll give up on this project for now and let someone with better resources and a larger potential sample size deal with this.

Anyone know anybody at Redbook?

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