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The Most Beautiful Words in the English Language

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To be honest, every Scrabble player has a favourite word that he always plays or keeps to himself. But Scrabble players are not the only ones who can think of words as beautiful or have a favourite one. There are a number of lists of words that people think are the most beautiful words in the English language on the Internet. These lists are of course very subjective since everyone has a very different idea of beauty, but there is a surprising number of words that constantly resurface in these lists. It is therefore fair to say that there are some characteristics which make words beautiful to the human ear.

Beautiful Words Based on Sound

One word I personally find very beautiful is the word “Soliloquy”, probably because I like how the sounds are repeated during the pronunciation of it. The sound of the word is one important reason for people to like it, no matter its meaning. This phenomenon is called phonoaesthetics. For this particular type of beauty, many scholars seem to favour “Cellar door“as one of the most beautiful words in the English language, or even the single most beautiful word. Generally speaking, words with a lot of soft sounds like vowels are thought more pleasing to the ear than words that contain harsh, stops like /k/.

One of the most beautiful words in the English language based on sound.

One of the most beautiful words in the English language based on sound.

Beautiful Words Based on Meaning

Not many people can truly distinguish between the sound of a word and its meaning. Some of the most beautiful words in the English language are therefore not only classified as such based on their sound, but also based on their meaning. Another personal example: “Wisdom”. It not only rolls down your tongue smoothly, but it has a wonderful meaning. Wisdom is something that you can achieve through living actively, but it is also something that you can give to others. One beautiful word I learned during the course of my research and that I will  hold dear from now on because of its meaning is “Petrichor” – the smell of earth after rain.

Beautiful Words Based on Exoticism

A lot of the words that made the lists of the most beautiful words in the English language have a specifically exotic sound to them. Of course, a lot of words in everyday English were originally borrowed from other languages. There are other words, however, that are not part of our day-to-day speech. Nevertheless, they appear on the lists of the most beautiful words in the English language. Two examples that I think are rather beautiful are “Mellifluous” (sweet sounding) and “Pyrrhic” (achieved at excessive cost). The lists also include a lot of foreign words that describe the same phenomenon as simple words used in daily life, like “Effervescent” for “Bubbly”. Using the foreign word does make you sound smarter, however, which I think might be one reason (next to sound and meaning) for finding them beautiful.

Beautiful Words Based on Accuracy

Some of the words that are commonly voted as the most beautiful words in the English language are simply chosen for the accurate way they describe what they mean. Some examples are onomatopoeic (a wonderful word in and of itself, don’t you think?) expressions such as “Purr” or “Sizzle”. Other examples that are not onomatopoeic words are “Flummoxed”, which describes the feeling of confusion pretty well, or “Woebegone” because it is exactly what you feel when you are sorrowful – you want it gone. These words are special, however, because they are not just some of the most beautiful words in the English language but they are also many people’s favourite words.

One of the most beautiful words in the English language based on its Accuracy

One of the most beautiful words in the English language based on its accuracy

Most Beautiful Words in the English Language vs. Favourite English Words

There seems to be a slight discrepancy between the most beautiful words in the English language and the most favoured words. While the beautiful words in fact sound pretty or have a wonderful meaning, words that favoured by other people often do not meet these criteria. In a survey made in the UK, for example, people were asked to give their favourite words. While number one, “Serendipity”, is also commonly listed as one of the most beautiful words, the second-favourite word is a bit of a surprise: “Quidditch“. The fact that the word “Muggle” made it to number 8 suggests that favourite words do not simply become likable in and of themselves, but because of the associations people have with them. Harry Potter seems to be something people in the United Kingdom are fond and proud of.  This might be a reason why these two fictitious words are so highly valued. Positive associations probably also come into play with yet another fictitious word that ranked high despite its length: “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. Plus, it’s simply fun to say. Like “Flabbergasted”, which is a favourite in my circle of friends.

Your Suggestions

Of course the most beautiful words of any language are highly subjective because every one of us has a different feeling for them and values some characteristics above others. But I bet that most of your favourite words could be easily put into one or more of the categories above, just like mine. I also did a little survey with my friends, and it turned out that their favourite words do not necessarily appear on lists, but that those words can be put into at least one of the categories I mentioned. After being engaged in this topic for a while, I am very curious: What are some of your favourite words in the English language? You can leave your suggestions in the comments.

image sources

  • Serendipity: Kristin Bußmann
  • woebegone: Kristin Bußmann
  • beauty-english: Thomas Münse

Comments

2 Responses

  1. One of my favourites right now is serenity, which pleases not only the phonoaesthetic in me, but also has a wonderful meaning as well as a strong fictional association. And since I am German it even sounds exotic and is thus getting 4 out of 5 stars =)

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