Wednesday, January 09, 2008

BEAUTIFUL (AND NOT-SO-BEAUTIFUL) WORDS



Cellar door is a combination of words in the English language once characterized by J. R. R. Tolkien to have an especially beautiful sound (In his 1955 essay "English and Welsh").

Wilfred Funk's list of the most beautiful words in English: ASPHODEL, FAWN, DAWN, CHALICE, ANEMONE, TRANQUIL, HUSH, GOLDEN, HALCYON, CAMELLIA, BOBOLINK, THRUSH, CHIMES, MURMURING, LULLABY, LUMINOUS, DAMASK, CERULEAN, MELODY, MARIGOLD, JONQUIL, ORIOLE, TENDRIL, MYRRH, MIGNONETTE, GOSSAMER, ALYSSEUM, MIST, OLEANDER, AMARYLLIS, ROSEMARY. [Alysseum may be a misspelling of alyssum, but this is how the word appears in Paul Dickson's Words.]

In the same poll, other American writers, poets, and critics responded with these selections: HOME (Lowell Thomas), CHATTANOOGA (Irvin S. Cobb), MELODY (Charles Swain Thomas), NOBILITY (Stephen D. Wise), VERMILION (Lew Sarett), GRACIOUS (Bess Streeter Aldrich), PAVEMENT (Arnold Bennett), LOVELY (George Balch Nevin), HARBORS OF MEMORY (William McFee), and NEVERMORE (Elias Lieberman). Louis Untermeyer responded, "The most musical words seem to be those containing the letter 'l'. I think, offhand, of such words as VIOLET, LAKE, LAUGHTER, WILLOW, LOVELY, and other such limpid and liquid syllables" [Charles Turner].

According to James Joyce, CUSPIDOR is the most beautiful word in English [Dickson].

In A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (page 86), Annie Dillard writes: "My friend Rosanne Coggeshall, the poet, says that 'sycamore' is the most intrinsically beautiful word in English" [Sarah Gossett].

A survey conducted in 2004 by the British Council which asked more than 40,000 people around the world to rank the most beautiful words among a list of 70 words found MOTHER first, followed by PASSION, SMILE, LOVE, and ETERNITY [Charles Turner].

The ten worst-sounding words in English, according to a poll by the National Association of Teachers of Speech in August, 1946: CACOPHONY, CRUNCH, FLATULENT, GRIPE, JAZZ, PHLEGMATIC, PLUMP, PLUTOCRAT, SAP, and TREACHERY.

According to reporter, editor, writer, and author Willard R. Espy, the ten most beautiful words in the English language are GONORRHEA, GOSSAMER, LULLABY, MEANDERING, MELLIFLUOUS, MURMURING, ONOMATOPOEIA, SHENANDOAH, SUMMER AFTERNOON, WISTERIA [The Book of Lists 2 (1980)].

In a 2005 column in the New York Times, James Gorman wrote that he was infatuated with the word AMYGDALA. "I like its sound, you might say its musicality" [Robert Brown].

According to Espy, the ten ugliest-sounding words in English, excluding indecent words, are FRUCTIFY, KUMQUAT, QUAHOG, CREPUSCULAR, KAKKAK, GARGOYLE, CACOPHONOUS, AASVOGEL, BROBDINGNAGIAN, JUKEBOX [The Book of Lists: The '90s Edition].

VICTUALS (pronounced "vittles") is the ugliest word in the language according to Harry Golden [Dickson].

NYNEX was deemed to be the worst name of any company in America by the publisher of Advertising Age [Dickson].

6 comments:

Macro said...

Since I first heard the term, I thought "crepuscular rays" didn't sound right for what it is.

Sky Onosson said...

I have always disliked the word "pithy" because it is supposed to be complimentary, and yet does not sound like a compliment to my ears...

cara said...

great article.

cara said...

we should have a poetry contest/activity. Select a list of words to be used in a poem and then give a short time line to complete a poem using all the words on the list.

( sort of like CV2, a local poetry magazine does every year but for free.

Yes?

jc said...

Activity sounds good. Contest sounds not as good.

I love the word vignette. That gn combo really gets me.

Krahn said...

I agree, Vignette is a great one. I like the poem idea. Aside from the competition. DO IT!!