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Beautiful Words

If you’ve read Come Unto These Yellow Sands (Pssst! Now in audio) you might remember I cite Wilfred J. Funk’s 1932 list of “most beautiful words”.

According to Funk those most beautiful words included…

Melody

Golden

Chime

Luminous

Mist

Tranquil

Murmuring

Lullaby

Hush

Dawn

Now those are all nice words, no doubt about it. But I was thinking about some of my favorite words, and some of the words I came up with are:

cocktails

starlight

silver

lilt

summery

labyrinth

shadow

nestle

ivory

starfish

What makes for beautiful words? Is it the sound of the words or the meaning of the words?

Robert Beard has a list of the Top 100 Most Beautiful Words (and a book) but I found almost none of those words particularly beautiful. In fact, I found a lot of his words irritating. Now why should a word be irritating on its own? I’ve no idea, but so it is. Bucolic, as a word, does nothing for me.

What about you? What are some of your favorite – even most beautiful – words?

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( 38 comments — Leave a comment )
Katharina Schwarz
Apr. 13th, 2013 07:50 pm (UTC)
Words
I think it's a combination of sound and meaning (and probably personal experience and connotation) that makes a word beautiful - although the sound is prevalent there, I think. Some words just have a melody in them all by themselves. And some just fit their meaning so very well.
Shadow is actually one of them, there is something breathy and unstable in it for me. Lullaby is a word that seems to be made to be pronounced sleepily. You don't even need to open your mouth for it really. The 's' in mist gives the word a mysterious touch, I can almost see the nebulous swirls. ... maybe it's all imagination but some words seem to transport their meaning by how they sound.

Funk's list fits me pretty well, although I would include your 'silver', 'shadow', 'nestle', and 'ivory' and then 'joyous', 'brittle', 'dragonfly', and 'iridescent'.

I guess some words are irritating when they are pretentious. Or overly obvious. Or sometimes when people are trying to hard by using them. Maybe it's not the words themselves then, it's the colouring they get by their usage. And some words just sound totally wrong.
There's no word coming to mind that I can't stand in English - there are probably several but I guess it's more contextual with them than anything inherent. In German I hate the words 'Leib' (old-fashioned for 'body') and 'Kleid' ('dress'). There's something in pronouncing them that makes me embarrassed and annoyed for some very weird reason. Psychoanalysts would probably have their fun with that ;D
jgraeme2007
Apr. 13th, 2013 08:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Words
I think you're right about the combination of sound and meaning.

bucolic has "colic" in it, and that's unlovely. Which reminds me of "puke" which is a word I loathe. When I was a kid the very word made me feel queasy. :-D

Iridescent is nice. Dragonfly too.

Katharina Schwarz
Apr. 13th, 2013 08:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Words
Oh, there's a word I can't stand: 'vomit'. I have no problem with 'puke' (well, not with the word) and all the other lovely synonyms. But 'vomit'. Urgh.
Do you think it makes a difference here when you learned a language? As a kid, adolescent, adult? And whether you're a native speaker or not?
I think the most beautiful words are those that also invite a pretty vivid imagery. In addition to sounding nice. And fitting well. And meaning the right things. ... I think this is getting complicated ;D
jgraeme2007
Apr. 14th, 2013 09:00 am (UTC)
Re: Words
That's a good point -- that beauty in a word will depend both on the language and perhaps even the mother tongue.
ext_1754325
Apr. 13th, 2013 09:12 pm (UTC)
Beautiful Words
Hi Josh,

For me the beauty is in the sound. From the Funk list I like 'chime'; from your list 'lilt'; from Beard's 'mellifluous'.

My own favorites are 'chill' and 'soliloquy'. As you can see I am quite taken with the i-l sound.
jgraeme2007
Apr. 13th, 2013 09:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Beautiful Words
Yes, I agree with the "i" sound. Another work I like is limned
ext_1754325
Apr. 13th, 2013 09:35 pm (UTC)
Re: Beautiful Words
Yes, no surprise there. You are the only author I know who uses that word in his stories. :)

Edited at 2013-04-13 10:26 pm (UTC)
jgraeme2007
Apr. 14th, 2013 09:01 am (UTC)
Re: Beautiful Words
Hmmm. I don't think it's that rare a word, though. :-)
ext_1754325
Apr. 14th, 2013 03:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Beautiful Words
I don't know. Honestly, was never aware of the word until I saw it in one of your stories and had to look up the definition. But that's a good thing. :)
gamgeefest
Apr. 13th, 2013 10:05 pm (UTC)
I like words that are fun to say, like onomatopoeia and lackadaisical. Not practical for everyday conversation, but gosh, they bring a smile to face. Beautiful words? I'd have to think about that.
jgraeme2007
Apr. 14th, 2013 09:02 am (UTC)
Yes, there are words that are just fun to say.

Then there are the fall back words, the words we use a lot or speak a lot. I have a little list of those that pop up even when I think I'm avoiding them.
ext_1754321
Apr. 13th, 2013 10:07 pm (UTC)
"Ihana" is a beautiful word
I remember very clearly how happy I was when I found Wilfred J. Funk’s 1932 list of “most beautiful words” in CUTYS, because I had found the concept of beautiful words extremely intriguing for few years before finding you and CUTYS. :-)

I agree with Katharina about the fact that both the sound and the meaning matters. I actually did some research about this with my 12 years old students when I was doing my master's thesis. One (small) part of the thesis was to find out what were the words that my students found most beautiful. For them the meaning of the word seemed to be the key factor. If the subject that the word represented was important to them, they felt that the word was beautiful. What surprised me was the fact that many of the words were somehow connected to nature (while the children had grown up in a city!). Their beautiful words were Finnish, but they were words like lake, sea, snow, ice, water, moon, seasons, storm...

I, myself, have been pondering over beautiful words lately because I'd like to expand the small heart tattoo I have and I've been thinking to do it with a few beautiful words. I haven't exactly decided which words to use yet, but I have a list that has both English and Finnish words in it.

I do find many of the Wilfred J. Funk’s list's words beautiful and Josh's "starlight", "shadow", "nestle" and "ivory" all make me smile. I also like the little word "hope". In Finnish I would add "ihana" (lovely) and "onni" (happiness) to the list.

Here is a poem that has some of my most beautiful words (in Finnish) in it. After some googling I also found the translation for you guys. ;-) The poet is Saima Harmaja.

Ihanat vaaleat pilvet
liukuvat taivaalla.
Hiljaa ja lumoavasti
laulaa ulappa.

Aaltojen hyväilyistä
hiekka on väsynyt.
Tulisit aivan hiljaa,
tulisit juuri nyt –

The wonderful pale clouds
cross the sky like wings.
Quiet and enchanting
the open water sings.

The sand has grown weary
of the waves’ caressing play.
Now come in perfect quiet,
now come here, right away…
jgraeme2007
Apr. 14th, 2013 09:07 am (UTC)
Re: "Ihana" is a beautiful word
That's a lovely poem!

I agree too with "lhana." I don't know how it would properly be pronounced, but it looks nice written. :-)
Katharina Schwarz
Apr. 14th, 2013 09:26 am (UTC)
Re: "Ihana" is a beautiful word
(As has been pointed out by Karen in the GR group) The last two lines especially are really beautiful. Thanks for posting this!
kc_ker
Apr. 14th, 2013 12:18 am (UTC)
Sound and connotation, for me, round flowing sounds like in the poem in the previous comment which i find beautiful yet a bit ... like a proceed with caution feeling.
Words with l in them such as: lilt, butterfly, and also atmospheric words like shadow.
I will think about this some more :-)
jgraeme2007
Apr. 14th, 2013 09:08 am (UTC)
Looking over Funk's list, I think connotation definitely plays a big role. Whereas in Beard's list, I think he was just going for the way words looked on the page.

I think how words look on the page is often how names are chosen in fantasy novels. :-)
Katharina Schwarz
Apr. 14th, 2013 09:28 am (UTC)
"I think how words look on the page is often how names are chosen in fantasy novels."

LOL, now here's a thought I've never had before. Fits my experience pretty well, though. Thanks!
poisontaster
Apr. 14th, 2013 12:20 am (UTC)
My absolute favorite is perhaps. Other favorites: lagniappe, peculiar, awkward, sated, pulse, consider, cocksucker and fuck.
jgraeme2007
Apr. 14th, 2013 09:03 am (UTC)
An eclectic mix!
kryptyd
Apr. 14th, 2013 01:32 am (UTC)
Disgusting words are more fun. Moist. Fetid. Glisten. Plump. Swollen. Cyst. Pustule. Pimple. Innards. Gizzard. Salubrious. Clammy.
jgraeme2007
Apr. 14th, 2013 09:05 am (UTC)
Oh yeesh. Yes, that's a slimy bunch of words. I would remove glisten and moist, though. Those can be lovely when used in the right setting. ;-)
kc_ker
Apr. 14th, 2013 02:02 pm (UTC)
I never considered 'moist' as 'lovely', lol, but that's just me. I agree with you that it must be set in the right context and then it could become more ... intriguing. Perhaps. (there's a good word! :))
'Glisten' is better. If i were suddenly confronted with 'glisten', my first thought would be a nature setting, with elves, and dew, but in the context of the words above, it went with a completely different imagery...
jgraeme2007
Apr. 14th, 2013 03:37 pm (UTC)
True. Context matters. The pattern of the words matters.
Katharina Schwarz
Apr. 14th, 2013 09:33 am (UTC)
I totally agree on the 'moist'. That's one of the words that sounds so wrong. I'm not a fan of 'oist' sounds, it seems. They make a word sound so narrow and closed-off, somehow. Another reason I don't like oysters, probably :-D
cmali
Apr. 14th, 2013 02:38 am (UTC)
I believe words, in and of themselves, are vastly different for each individual. For you, Mr. Lanyon, like most authors or wordsmiths, they are a symbol of conveyed messages, of emotion and knowledge transferred to page. These designated symbols, to us the receiver, are in turn gathered, deciphered, and organized into comprehensible messages for understanding and future reference. It's factual placement and accurate usage according to our societal grammar rulings that draws it to be pleasing to the ear, or the auditory sense. So, when someone associates this grouping of symbols, this deigned "word," with a sensual experience, an episodic pathway cuts through our grey matter and embeds in our memory. Though it can be changed or remolded, it is essentially schemad for good.

That said, some of the most beautiful words I know are also the most common place: treasure, promise, mine, daughter, lover, enchanted and eternity. These are the ones that have captured my heart with moments in time, fragments of memories that take my breath away even in the darkness.

*Probably more than you wanted, but what you got, eh?!
jgraeme2007
Apr. 14th, 2013 08:58 am (UTC)
*Probably more than you wanted, but what you got, eh?!


Made me stop and think, though, and I always enjoy that. ;-)
dreamtimegirl
Apr. 14th, 2013 11:58 am (UTC)
Hmmmm... I like lilt from your list.

I always like dramatic words, like insatiable. I think melancholy, eclectic and irrefutable are nice words aesthetically. Eclectic is probably my favourite. Come to think of it, titillate sounds great too.

My boyfriend likes to pick passwords based on how nice they are to type out. For example, when he was younger he used to use snobs because he thought it had nice symmetry. I guess that's another way words can be beautiful.
jgraeme2007
Apr. 14th, 2013 03:36 pm (UTC)
Melancholy is nice, yes.

I think how words look as well as how words sound is definitely a factor.

Rain
Spain
Tea and cakes

Those all look nice to me as well as sound nice. Or maybe I'm on a My Fair Lady kick.
kirby_crow
Apr. 14th, 2013 02:36 pm (UTC)
Ablutions. Hate that word. I used to keep a list of overblown words that I couldn't stand, but I lost it and now I only remember them when I read them (which isn't often, thank god).
jgraeme2007
Apr. 14th, 2013 03:32 pm (UTC)
Ha. Funny. It's such an old fashioned word, I only think of it as ever used tongue-in-cheek.
seraphinawitch
Apr. 14th, 2013 04:13 pm (UTC)
Words I like...how about Serendipity, luminous, arcane, mondaine, polyglot, persiflage, louche, pellucid, coruscate, mirage?

Words I hate...awkward - its a bird that looks like a cross between a dodo and a turkey, smells of boiled cabbage and burnt porage and flaps into the room and crouches malevolently in the middle of the table issuing disquiet and irritation with every quiver! It's a very effective word, it makes me feel awkward whenever it appears!

I can just tolerate any word, what grates for me is words that are used wrongly. Wrack, for example, it's a kind of seaweed, if you rack your brains for something, you are putting them on the rack - a nasty mediaeval instrument of torture! Disinterested, when you mean bored or uninterested. Disinterested means that you have nothing to gain from something!
jgraeme2007
Apr. 14th, 2013 04:33 pm (UTC)
I will say "disinterested" is subtle and can be open to misinterpretation. As in a reader may not appreciate disinterest till later in the story.

I like serendipity. Oh, I know a couple I like. Panache. Oh, but that's French. Completely different.

Sortilege. I was going to use that for a fantasy title of a book I've yet to write.
teko_tenka
Apr. 15th, 2013 05:22 pm (UTC)
For me, I love words with actions, so, verbs really. Anything with a cue for something more. Like these: Tilt, flutter, reminisce, drizzle, chafe, shuffle, scatter, bubble, crumble, trickle, curl, etch.. etc
I also like chime, murmur from Funk's list and nestle from yours!

I just find a certain expectancy in them, some possible emotional connotation?
jgraeme2007
Apr. 15th, 2013 08:06 pm (UTC)
Oh I like that idea of words that carry expectation. :-)
kc_ker
Apr. 15th, 2013 09:49 pm (UTC)
From the previous comments i like: tilt, flutter, drizzle, crumble, trickle, curl, chime, murmur, and nestle. :)

I was thinking this morning that qualifiers can pretty much change word images and/or create a context, such as: 'moist eyelashes' and 'green glass beads'. I don't necessarily like any of the words separately, but together they become something else - an emotion, or a pleasant image.
jgraeme2007
Apr. 15th, 2013 09:55 pm (UTC)
Very true!
soulan
Apr. 16th, 2013 07:45 am (UTC)
It's obvious why Funk likes his list and you like yours. Each of them describes a scene. Funk is lying in bed at dawn listening to his wife get up to nurse a baby in their lakeside house while an heirloom clock in the parlour downstairs chimes the hour.

By contrast, you are at a summer cocktail party at a big Victorian mansion by the sea, where you hear (or your main character does) the lilting voice of your hostess call your name. You turn and see she's with a handsome stranger who stares at you for a few beats. She introduces you, and after a few minutes of flirting, you follow him through the maze of rooms and outside to the beach, where you [add sex scene here] and afterwards nestle in the shadows of the dunes. Before you part he gives you a dried starfish as a memento of the evening.

See what I mean? Obvious. :)
jgraeme2007
Apr. 17th, 2013 03:08 pm (UTC)
Why yes! Considering how often this happens to me, I should have recognized it at once. ;-D
( 38 comments — Leave a comment )

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