Beautiful Words

When I was a burgeoning writer in middle school, I was taught that the most beautiful word/phrase in the English language is “cellar door”. It has stuck with me all this time because, frankly, don’t get it. The double L and soft C are great, and I could buy cellar as a beautiful word on its own, but door throws it all off. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

In any case, to be filed as one of the most random things you’ll read this week, here’s a list of some of my favorite words, from an acoustic and phonetic perspective:

  • Candle: This is probably my favorite word in the English language. At first it seems as if it will be harsh, opening with a hard C. But the combination of three consonants in the middle of the word has the wonderful sound of warmth.
  • Hush: Borderline onomatopoeic, the aftermath of saying this word fills the silence that it’s supposed to evoke. The bookend Hs really pull their weight here. It also can carry a lot of meaning, working in all emotions, and even as a potential name for protagonists and antagonists alike.
  • Atlas: First, a confession – The inclusion of atlas as a beautiful word may have a lot more to do with my upbringing or affinity for maps than it’s actual construction as a word. But bear with me. The tl digraph here is up there with candle’s trigraph as a beautiful grouping to me. Acoustically, as in candle, the combination of letters also demarcates a new syllable, and I find beauty in that. Together it creates visual beauty, apart the digraph leads to aural beauty.
  • Flurry: Flurry takes the double consonant beauty of cellar to the next level. The F, softened slightly by its neighbor, is a great beginning as well. Upon hearing, it also evokes both ends of the speed spectrum: either a wild throw of punches or the soft falling of winter’s first snow.
  • Salt: This word provides just as much flavor as the compound it represents. Alongside the next word in the list, it’s also one of the hardest sounding words on the list, at least to my ears. But that doesn’t stop it from being gorgeous. Easy to say, easy to read, it’s a fantastic word to utilize in a number of ways. Seasoning, emotional pettiness, the sprinkling of actual rocks to accomplish a task like melting ice. Salt is a real utility player while looking good all the while.
  • Horizon: Perhaps an odd inclusion in the list, as the z in the middle of the word jumps out like an unwelcome blemish on one’s face. But in fact, it’s the ending of the word that truly sets it apart for me. Granted, the worst part of the word is the “or”, which is the same phonetic sound I dislike in cellar door. But the hard I and the flourish of an ending more than makes up for it.

Have you ever thought about the aesthetic value of the words we use regularly? What are some of your favorite words?

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