Professor Tolkien believed that the most beautiful phrase in the English language is “Cellar door” – “Door to the basement.” When we were preparing the text about “The Lord of the Rings”, we found the following quote:
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.
Translation into Russian
Most English speakers … would agree that cellar door is beautiful, especially when compared to its meaning (and its spelling). More beautiful than, for example, the word “sky”, and much more beautiful than the word “beautiful” itself.
And we wondered what words native English speakers consider the most sweet. Let’s talk about this. Meet the top 10 most beautiful words in the English language.
Disclaimer: there are quite a lot of similar tops and the words there are different. We used resource data Grammarly and a large-scale study by linguist Robert Byrd “100 most beautiful words in English“.
How does the perception of beautiful and not very words generally work
Linguists have a special concept – phonoaesthetics. It shows how pleasant certain combinations of sounds are to the human ear.
Phono aesthetics is an imperceptible, but extremely important feature of the perception of any information by ear. Not only speech, but also music, noises.
It is because of the specific characteristics of human hearing that singing Tarja Turunen most listeners will perceive it as melodic, and the vocals of a deathcore band like “Thy art is murder“- like an unpleasant set of shouts.
When creating artificial languages for the saga about Middle-earth, John Tolkien paid attention to consonance. And when phonetically analyzing Quenya, one of the Elvish languages, this is very noticeable.
Interestingly, the meaning almost completely changes the perception of words. People like words with a pleasant meaning, even if they don’t sound very good. And vice versa. For example, the word “mother” is considered the most pleasant for a native speaker. But it doesn’t sound in the top 100. But the word “woebegone” (inconsolable, mournful, woeful) sounds good, but people don’t like it.
The list below was created without taking into account the semantic perception of words – only for the aesthetics of sound.
Bungalow, cottage, cottage
In English, the word came from Hindi – बङ्ल (banglā) and means “Bengali house”. And in general “bungalow” denotes a special type of dwelling that is popular in India – one-story, with a veranda and built mainly of wood.
In a broad sense, this can be called any country house or dacha. So when you go to remove weeds in the garden, then with a clear conscience you can answer that you are going to your bungalow.
Infrastructure of the island just started to grow, but many are offered as hotel rooms, and this Thai bungalow.
The island’s infrastructure has just begun to develop, but there are a lot of both hotel rooms and real Thai bungalows.
Modest, discreet, shy
In the Middle Ages, this word was most often used in combination with a girl or a woman. Demure lady is a chaste lady. Now it has become almost a complete synonym for the word “shy”. And today it applies not only to people, but also to inanimate objects.
She was wearing a very demure skirt.
She was wearing a very modest skirt.
Disappearing, melting, evaporating, ephemeral
An interesting word with an unremarkable etymology, but a large semantic field.
In medicine, it means “short-lived, rapidly disappearing.” This can be said about edema or an accelerated heartbeat. For example, “evanescent non-fixed erythematous rash” – “non-fixed, short-term erythematous rash.”
In mathematics, it tends to zero. This can be said, for example, about the limit of a function. For example, “evanescent quantities” are “quantities tending to zero”.
In physics there is a special type of electromagnetic radiation – evanescent or damped field – “evanescent field”.
Although the word is not used very often in ordinary vocabulary, it is well known to most people. At least from the name of the spell “Evanesco” from the Harry Potter universe, which makes the object disappear. Or the names of the American rock band Evanescence.
As an art form, fire is evanescent and fleeting.
As an art form, fire is ephemeral and fleeting.
Happiness, the source of happiness
It is interesting that in Latin, where the word came from, it meant not only “happiness”, but also “fertility” – the ability to bear children. Now this value is outdated. In general, the word is most often used in a historical or sublime context.
From the word felicity are quite common English names Felix and Felicity.
Felicity and glory reigns supreme here.
Happiness and glory reign here.
Inzhenu, naive girl
In English, the word took root only in the 20th century. Already by the sound it can be determined that it is of French origin. And in French it was formed from the Latin “ingenuus” and meant almost the same as today – “honest, ingenuous, sincere.”
The homonyms “ingenuous” (honest, sincere) and “ingenious” (talented, intelligent) are often confused even by native speakers with perfect English. It only saves that they are not too common.
Today the word “ingenue” is most often used in theatrical productions. There, it means the dramatic role of a naive, but charming young girl-simpleton.
She’s too old to be playing the ingenue…
She’s too old to play ingenue…
Leisure, rest, free time
The word took root in English in the XIV century and practically did not change its meaning. But in Latin its source “licere” meant a little different – “to allow”. Three words have survived from it to this day: license, leisure and pleasure.
But the fact is that, leisure is a very busy thing.
In fact, rest is a very busy time.
The word is not only beautiful, but also very interesting. It was invented by the writer Sylvia Wright. In one of her essays, she recalled a stanza from an old ballad:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o ‘Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.
And she wrote that she always wondered who this lady Mondegrin was, who was killed along with Earl O’Morey. Moreover, neither before nor after this stanza there is not a single mention of it. It turned out that she simply memorized the line incorrectly, and in the original there was “and layd him on the green”. This essay gave the title to a whole layer of errors and inaccuracies in linguistics.
We tell you more about mondegrin in this article…
You may hear the phrase “Excuse me while I kiss this guy” in Jimmi Hendrix’s song, but it’s just mondegreen…
You can hear the phrase “Forgive me when I kiss this guy” in the Jimi Hendrix song, but it’s just mondegrin…
Muffled, buzzing, rustling, grumpy
The etymology of the word is even a little boring. It came from Latin, and did not change at all in Middle and Old English. At the same time, the meaning also remained the same – noise and everything associated with it.
But the word is interesting because its meaning depends almost entirely on the context. Therefore, we will give two examples at once.
Behind the house there was beautiful murmurous river.
Behind the house was beautiful gurgling river.
What a murmurous oldman!
What grumpy old man!
Serendipity, fluke, insight
This word is often misinterpreted as “intuition”. Even the film of the same name with John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale was adapted that way. But this is not entirely accurate.
The word itself was created from the old name of the island of Sri Lanka – Serendip. And it turned into a “fluke” with the help of the old Persian tale “The Three Princes of Serendip”, where the heroes constantly have unusual events that they do not expect, but which turn out to be very useful.
In the 18th century, with the growing popularity of oriental tales, this word entered the English language and stuck there. Now it is considered a little outdated, but that does not prevent carriers from using it.
Now was it coincidence, serendipity, or strategy that brought you here?
So this is a coincidence, fluke or a thoughtful plan led you here?
Of all the words on this list, this is the most used one and is included in every native speaker’s active vocabulary.
Moreover, initially “umbrella” meant exactly “shelter from the sun” and only in the 17th century the word began to be used for umbrellas from the rain.
In a figurative sense, it is also often used. Mostly in constructions like “under the umbrella of”, which can be translated as “under the umbrella” or “under the umbrella”.
Obviously, the Member States concerned had claimed that they were acting under the United Nations umbrella…
Of course, the Member States concerned have argued that they are acting under aegis United Nations.
And what words in the English language do you consider the most beautiful and how do you generally define “beautiful” or “ugly” words? We are interested, write in the comments.
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