This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Nuts and Bolts: phonoaesthetics.

JRR Tolkien said that the most beautiful word in the English language was cellar-door.

This wasn't, as far as I know, anything to do with his ever being stuck in a cellar and all hope of rescue focusing on the said cellar-door. No, Tolkien was taking a purely phonoaesthetic approach. He often did, as you can tell if you read his works of fiction.

For him, cellar-door had the loveliest sound of any word in the English language.

I certainly share Tolkien's views on the importance of phonoaesthetics. As a child I remember crying bitterly because our holiday was to be in Exmouth, which sounded frowning and fierce; but later being completely reconciled to the idea of the holiday when I discovered that we'd actually be staying in a village a little way outside the town called Lympstone. Lympstone sounded charming. And, as far as I can recall, it was.

So, what are the most beautiful-sounding words in the English language? It's partly a question of taste, of course, but there's also the difficulty of separating a word's meaning from its sound.

If you ask an American what is the most beautiful word in the English language it seems there's quite a high chance that the answer will be mother. Personally, though, I'm yet to be convinced that mother really does have a very pleasing sound to it.

Does smother?

How about a lovely word like melodious?

How about a horrid one like malodorous?

It's not easy, is it.

Anyway, here are some words that have all been suggested as the most phonoaesthetically pleasing in the language: mellifluous, delicious, diaphanous, shimmering.

Here are some more: plethora, silhouette, salamander, percolator.

And how about these? Avarice, melanoma, clandestine, fallacy.

So there we are, wherever that is - which is quite possibly Exeter, which I visited later in life and found absolutely charming.

File:Archway, Fleming Way, Exeter - - 686551.jpg
Photo by Derek Harper

Thing To Consider Today: phonoaesthetics. This word comes from phōnē, sound and aisthētikos, perceptible to the senses.

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