In English Please – Blog

Activity of the Week

(leave your answers in a comment!)

What are the most beautiful words in English?

If someone asked you to name the most beautiful word or phrase in English, how would you choose? Would it be based on the meaning of the word? How it sounds? How it is spelt?

There are some words, like “love,” “comely,” or “demure,” that seem like solid contenders. But the compound word that some believe to be the most inherently beautiful will likely come as a colossal surprise.

“Cellar door.” That’s no typo. In terms of phonaesthetics, cellar door is often held up as an example of the most euphonic sound combination. J.R.R. Tolkien, author of  “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings,” is credited as one of the first to make this claim.

Phonaesthetics is the study of the euphony and cacophony of words without regard for semantics. Phonaesthetics derives from two Greek word parts that mean “voice-sound” and “aesthetics.”

(If you think “cellar door” is an odd choice, consider that some people “taste” letters and “hear” colors.

Euphony is used most commonly to describe the pleasing, agreeable sound effect of poetry. In general, vowel sounds are more euphonious. Cacophony, meaning harsh and discordant, is the opposite of euphony. Cacophony comes from the Greek word parts meaning “bad,” “evil,” and “voice.”

Say the words slowly: “cellar door.” Is the sound pleasing to your ears?

Let us know what you think the most beautiful words are in English and why.

This entry was published on March 3, 2012 at 12:13 and is filed under Home. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

4 thoughts on “Activity of the Week

  1. As for me, I would go with “how it sounds” regardless of the meaning of the words! For example I always thought that “Jeopardy” is among the words which stands out and is really nice when you say it (don’t know why!). Other words like “love”, “friend” are also very nice!

    If I would learn new languages I would consider how nice the words are pronounced in that language! For example, it would be hard for me to study Russian, German, Chinese or even Arabic (no offense to anyone or any or these languages) simply because the words are heavy and hard to pronounce!

    In contrast with Spanish and French, the words sound nicer, even though it is still hard in French for example.

  2. mmm.. Nothing! I feel nothing about it!!. Just like any other word! With all respect to this research! 🙂

    • Hehehe, personally I don’t think I could have thought it up myself, but I quite like the way it sounds, I’m sure we can think up something better though!

      It is difficult to detach the meaning from the word, for example, a while back I read that apparently, in a public survey, the word considered to be most beautiful was “mother” – evidently because of what it means, as the sound of the word itself is quite ugly!

      Wouldn’t it be much easier to pick beautiful sounding words in a language we don’t understand at all!

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