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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