Beautiful Words

A post at the Reader’s Digest: The 30 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language

Splendid! I’m right there for this! Tell, me, what ARE the thirty most beautiful — no, let’s not be that demanding — thirty beautiful words, whether or not they are the MOST beautiful.

I definitely have favorites, most of which aren’t going to appear here because they’re jargon rather than “real words.” I mean, like

Ovoviviparous

Which is a great word, a lovely word, all those v’s just roll off the tongue, I love this word and all its variants, such as ovoviviparity. But it’s not a real word in the sense of words such as, say,

Vivacious

Which only has two v’s, but is also a nice word, better than average.

For a list of beautiful words, I really think you ought to be picking words which are real words rather than jargon, and also words that aren’t just silly such as

Floccinaucinihilipilification 

Which is a real word in a sense, but never actually used except as an example of a long word. Who did use it? Some author, long time ago … Heinlein? … I’m not sure, but I remember one character saying to another something like, “You’re such a floccinaucinihilipilificator,” and of course that’s something that sticks in the mind.

Oh, an author I don’t much like, but whose language skills are thoroughly admirable, is Jack Vance. Who can forget this wonderful bit of dialogue?

“Ah,” said Magnus Ridolph, “you think I dealt with you unfairly. And you brought me to Jexjeka to work in your mines.”
“You got it right mister. I’m a hard man to deal with when I’m crowded.”

“Your unpleasant threats are supererogatory.”

And certainly supererogatory is a great word, though I don’t know if I’d call it beautiful.

All right, so, what are some of the words that are actually picked out of the vast English language by the linked post? Let me take a look …

Sibilance. I disagree. This is a fine word, an onomatopoetic word, but it is not a beautiful word to my ear. Next?

Tranquility. Okay, this time I do agree. That is a beautiful word. Let me skim down the list and pick out a few more I particularly like.

Epiphany. I’m biased because one of my dogs was named Sevenwoods Epiphany. On the other hand, I named her that for a reason. This is a beautiful word.

Quintessence. I do like “q” words. Maybe almost as much as “v” words.

However, overall, the linked post does a good job of demonstrating how personal the perception of beauty is. I wouldn’t pick out most of those words as beautiful. Here are some I might pick:

Effervescent

Incandescent

Celestial

Liminal

Luminous

Vespertine

Yes, I see I do like “v” words. I’m also distracted by meaning to some degree. That’s hard to avoid, although my liking for “ovoviviparous” has nothing to do with its meaning, of course..

Okay, what’s one of your favorite words? Drop ’em in the comments!

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11 thoughts on “Beautiful Words”

  1. Sibilance is an ominous kind of work, as alliterative S reminds us of sssnakesss, while alliterative v or mis reminiscent of bees in the distance.
    I ran into another ominous word recently, and was reminded of it in the previous post: ferruginous. Between the two posts it seems appropriate: it was used to in a wonderful description of sunlight in smog, during the eruption of Laki in 1783.
    There are similar descriptions from other catastrophic eruptions, though occasionally the moon is ghostly blue.

  2. I agree Sibilance is not beautiful, but Susurration? Just as gorgeous as the sound it describes.

  3. Dylan Thomas quote
    “”The greatest single word I know is ‘drome’ which, for some reason, nearly opens the doors of heaven for me. Say it yourself, out aloud, and see if you hear the golden gates swing backward as the last, long sound of the ‘m’ fades away. ‘Drome,’ ‘bone,’ ‘dome,’ ‘doom,’ ‘province,’ ‘dwell,’ ‘prove,’ ‘dolomite,’ these are only a few of my favourite words, which are insufferably beautiful to me. The first four words are visionary; God moves in a long ‘o’.’

  4. @ Mary Beth,
    Was just coming here to suggest susurration. Also inchoate, paradisiacal, quizzical, quiddity, aria, aurora, jubilee . . . there are too many lovely words, I’ll stop there.

  5. I agree with you all! Sibilance is both unbeautiful and snakelike — I like snakes, but not Sibilance.

    And sussuration is indeed much more beautiful.

    Ann, I LOVE the quote, God moves in a long o. But I must admit that drome does not stand out to me.

  6. Yes, it was Heinlein, in The Number of the Beast. (Twice, counting the -trix variant.)

    ***
    “Sharpie darling, you are a floccinaucinihilipilificatrix.”

    “Is that a compliment?”

    “Certainly! Means you’re so sharp you spot the slightest flaw.”
    ***

    ***
    “You misspelled it.”

    “I did not!”

    “You did so; `”i” before “e” except after “c.”‘ You reversed ’em.”

    “Well. . . maybe I did. That diphthong has always given me trouble.

    “Floccinaucinihilipilificator!”
    ***

  7. I love “iridescent” and “zooxanthellae.” (Rarely is there opportunity to use the latter.) “Shimmer” is another great one. And “calendar.”

  8. Oh, “shimmer” is a good one — and so is “iridescent” — and so is zooxanthellae, which alas, I don’t see myself being able to work into casual conversations very often.

  9. Kim Aippersbach

    Numinous. Love the meaning and the sound.

    Rather fond of Onomatopoeia. (Can’t spell it, though!)

    Serendipity. Serendipitous.

    Not necessarily beautiful, but I love saying them and I love the way they sound like what they mean (and for both of them I want to ignore the antipenultimate (another good word!) rule and accent “re” and “fa”):

    Irrevocably
    Indefatigable (there’s a Mount Indefatigable, and that’s such a great name for a mountain!)

    I’ve loaned out my copy of The Wee Free Men, but I remember Tiffany Aching quite enjoying the word Susurrus.

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