Imagine a world where you would have to pay for each word you spoke or wrote. I wondered which words (or which kind of) would be the most expensive ones? I assume it would not only be a matter of frequency, but also the quality of expression would be relevant. Likewise, there would also be words which are "cheap". So by which criteria would you determine the value of words in such a world?

EDIT: Иво Недев made a good point, so let us assume that it is not possible to invent new words, unless they are published by the government (like in a 1984 scenario).

EDIT: Concerning prices, let us assume a free market. The government only determines the words. (Javert proposed another scenario, a dictatorship, which would have a completely different impact on this question. Answers could discuss this as well.)

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    $\begingroup$ Who is the guy/company selling those words? ultimately HE is the one fixing the prices and is likely to want to maximize his profit $\endgroup$ – Nyashes Feb 11 '16 at 9:21
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    $\begingroup$ Who is imposing the price and for what goal? $\endgroup$ – Cyrus Feb 11 '16 at 9:34
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    $\begingroup$ Poor people will develop their own language with cheep words that will have the exact same meaning of expensive words. For isntance if LOVE costs 1000$ to say once, but smakadudle costs 1$ I'll rather use the later, or figure out a way around the limitation - sign language etc. $\endgroup$ – Иво Недев Feb 11 '16 at 9:36
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    $\begingroup$ Who do you have to pay? And what happens if you don't? $\endgroup$ – enkryptor Feb 11 '16 at 9:39
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    $\begingroup$ Who "produces" and sells the words in this free market? Do listeners charge speakers or does the government charge them? Without a lot more details about the workings of your pay-per-word setup, anything goes. $\endgroup$ – Cyrus Feb 11 '16 at 11:19

Depending on the views of society, any curse words or sexual words could definitely be expensive.

Maybe a system with price categories something like this:

  • Daily use words: Often used and cheap. Say good morning and goodbye to your family.
  • Work related words: Possibly free, since they're essential.
  • Curse words: You're rich and you want to insult/curse? Pay up, son.
  • Naughty words: For those looking for excitement. They will cost you but not as much as cursing.
  • Lovely words: Cheaper than naughty words but more expensive than daily use words since saying "I love you" is still quite important.

Just a rough example, as it would be very hard to set a price on any individual word.

  • $\begingroup$ I like this approach as it covers also a moral function of language in society. $\endgroup$ – friedemann_bach Feb 11 '16 at 9:49

I think the most expensive words are the words that express the need for something like : help me, give me something, lend me money ... By the way in my opinion money related words should be far more expensive.

2nd Answer :

If you live under a dictatorship, the government will put very high prices on words such as : freedom, revolution, rebellion, assassination, human rights, dignity ... etc. At the same time, this government will put cheap prices on words such as : security, obedience, dominance, unity, peace ... etc.

  • $\begingroup$ This is very interesting! If "need" words were cheap, it would mean that the society is very stable and supportive; instead, if such words were expensive, it could mean that the society is very poor regarding mutual assistance. $\endgroup$ – friedemann_bach Feb 11 '16 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ "Emergency" words and phrases, such as "help me" should be free of charge, similarly to emergency phone numbers. $\endgroup$ – Trang Oul Feb 12 '16 at 12:24

I think the most important criteria would be price/frequency. Words that are grammatically necessary will be spoken or written way more and will therefore be very cheap while other more special words that see almost no use would be exorbitantly high priced so the ratio of price/frequency will be the same for both. In the end you only got to define your desired ratio and apply it on all the words, that way you can easily adjust prices as well. (And also finally people who do studies on the frequency of words will make some money)


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