Cellar door – the most beautiful word in English..?

August 19, 2010 § 3 Comments

Gah. I was watching Donnie Darko the other day. Theres a scene in it where the teacher explains to Donnie how  a famous linguist once said that the words ‘cellar door’  were considered the most beautiful in English. It is attributed to J.R.R Tolkein. when he once said in an essay  “Most English-speaking people . . . will admit that cellar door is ‘beautiful’, especially if dissociated from its sense (and from its spelling). More beautiful than, say, sky, and far more beautiful than beautiful.”  Sounds interesting huh. It does make sense though. Everyone has their favourite words from time to time. But what makes them our favourite? Linguists will tell you how the sound of the word, previous associations, cultural-socio-economical history plays a role in that. It’s called phonoaesthetics. There are some words that just click and linger in your mind. (There…. I ve always liked the word ‘linger’ for that matter.) The linguists study that too… how the sound affects the reactions to the word… vowels have a big part to play there. ‘O’ is supposed to be the most sonorous vowel. Edgar Allen Poe’s favourite word was ‘Nevermore’. Gosh. It does sound good doesn’t it?! I took German lessons for a year once. And one day I was at this concert… heard a guy talk in some phoren  language. What is it I ask… turns out french. Seriously… the sound is like some nice and gooey but glazy chocolates melting in your mouth. That’s when I switched to french for the next year.

I ve always had some favourite words for some periods of time. Currently m simply stuck on ‘Nevertheless’. Totally stuck on that word. Heh. One of my friends was stuck on ‘Blabber’. Me n KT even had a whole list of words and phrases that had an aura about them.

Some of the words I ve been stuck on before or find charming or interesting  –  Becoming ; Cynosure ; Quintessential ; Nincompoop ; Flibbertigibbet ; Delicious delicacies ; Humongous ; Trauma ; Literally (yeah.. literally!) ; Cellar door (of course..) ; Bitter sweetheart ; Scoot ; Flutter ;  Whoopsie Daisies (this one brings to mind an extremely cute Hugh Grant in Notting Hill falling down the gate of the garden… with Julia Roberts smiling away..) ; Serene …

as usual… the list is incomplete… But let me add a few more after I talk to KT. What are your favourite words?


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