When they were little, my kids loved to ask dinner guests about their favorite things: books, movies, meals, colors, etc. People have favorite everythings: numbers, body parts, time of day. Lots of people have favorite words. It may be the meaning of the word that is most endearing, but often folks like words for their sound.
In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard notes that her poet-friend, Rosanne Coggeshall, considers the word sycamore “the most intrinsically beautiful word in English.” I find it a bit tough to rank them so confidently, but sycamore does sound nice.
James Joyce’s pick was cuspidor. It’s too hard for me to remove the word from its definition to agree with Mr. Joyce. It’s interesting that it rhymes with sycamore though. Maybe not all that interesting, I guess.
If denotation could be completely discounted, my selection would be diarrhea. That word wins the prize for greatest aesthetic disparity between sound and sense. If you can block out any visual images and just listen, it’s a lovely word. But you probably can’t. Sorry about that.
Wilfred Funk (not the Funk and Wagnalls Funk — I checked), in his book Word Origins, lists these as the most beautiful English words: 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.
Beauty is nice, but sometimes I like words because they are fun to say. I like schism, bugaboo, and nincompoop for that reason.
Let’s get some participation on this. What are your favorite words? List them in the comments!
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We share some favorite words with you. Let’s connect at favoritewords.com It’s a neat and fresh app that’s free to use and it seems to offer some nice benefits.
P.S. My favourite word is ‘ sequencious’
Excellent. I wasn’t even aware of your favorite word’s existence!
Thank you for sharing all your amazing resources. I am a learning mentor in a UK secondary school working with ‘reluctant learners’ and students with learning difficulties. This year I am supporting Years 10 and 11 in English and maths. Your English resources e.g. 250 ways to say ‘went’, will really come in useful when we return to school next week.
Thank YOU for taking the time to post such an encouraging comment. All the best to you as you return to teaching.
Should do a piece on beautiful words with not so beautiful meanings. I recently used the word “miasma” in a story, and it is a word I had to look up while reading an HP Lovecraft story (this considered, I believe I have to look up every other word when reading a Lovecraft piece).
mi-as-ma (mahy-az-muh). noun. 1) Noxious exhalations from putrescent organic matter; poisonous effluvia or germs polluting the atmosphere (What? Did Mr. Lovecraft write the definition?) 2) A dangerous foreboding or death-like influence or atmosphere.
I also like “sardonic, insidious and officious”, all have not so good meanings, but they have that cadence to them I seem to enjoy.
Perhaps it’s the darkness within me that makes me like such words.
Great idea, Mark! Count on it. Thanks for contributing.
What a fun post! I never thought of words in this way. Your comment on diarrhea is too funny. I’m afraid I can’t disconnect the meaning from the sound of the word. Anyway, I found some sites online that list 100 of the most beautiful English words. They contain quite a wide variety of words. After giving this some thought, I’d say effervescent, halcyon, and immaculate are my favorites at the moment. I still think the meanings influence me more than the sounds.
Doesn’t salem also mean peace in Hebrew?
I like onomatopoeia just because it’s fun to say and fun to spell.
I know shalom is a lovely word. That’s the only one I can think of off-hand. I’ll look it up! Thanks, Darlene.
Look up the word PEACE in different languages. I think the languages of the world saved their most beauiful word for PEACE.