We show that the essential meaning conveyed by individual words maps to a compass-like plane with major axes of powerful-weak and dangerous-safe. We then uncover a linguistic 'safety bias' by examining how words are used in large-scale, diverse corpora.
We define 'ousiometrics' to be the study of essential meaning in whatever context that meaningful signals are communicated, and 'telegnomics' as the study of remotely sensed knowledge.
From work emerging through the middle of the 20th century, the essence of meaning has become generally accepted as being well captured by the three orthogonal dimensions of evaluation, potency, and activation (EPA).
By re-examining first types and then tokens for the English language, and through the use of automatically annotated histograms—'ousiograms'—we find here that:
1. The essence of meaning conveyed by words is instead best described by a compass-like power-danger (PD) framework,
2. Analysis of a disparate collection of large-scale English language corpora—literature, news, Wikipedia, talk radio, and social media—shows that natural language exhibits a systematic bias toward safe, low danger words—a reinterpretation of the Pollyanna principle's positivity bias for written expression.
To help justify our choice of dimension names and to help address the problems with representing observed ousiometric dimensions by bipolar adjective pairs, we introduce and explore 'synousionyms' and 'antousionyms'—ousiometric counterparts of synonyms and antonyms.
We further show that the PD framework revises the circumplex model of affect as a more general model of state of mind.
Finally, we use our findings to construct and test a prototype 'ousiometer', a telegnomic instrument that measures ousiometric time series for temporal corpora.
We contend that our power-danger ousiometric framework provides a complement for entropy-based measurements, and may be of value for the study of a wide variety of communication across biological and artificial life.