Day 23: The most beautiful words

The most beautiful word in the English language is the compound word cellar door.

J. R. R. Tolkien said that. I have no idea why.

I’m partial to murmur and serendipity.

A student once told me that hearing the word button just drove her up the wall.

When I was about four years old, I discovered that if I repeated tuna over and over, it lost all meaning. Army worked the same way. I was afraid if I went on repeating long enough, I might fall into a trance, so I always stopped after a reasonable interval.

Instead of saying garage, my father said car house. My mother told me the phrase was related to the buggy house of his boyhood. He also sometimes referred to light bread. Both of my parents called the refrigerator an ice box at least half the time. My grandfather and many of his contemporaries used the same terms. I’m sure there were others I don’t remember.

A cousin helps me keep ice box alive. But I miss car house and light bread. They were a link to my father’s boyhood. They spoke of his memories of horses and buggies, of homemade bread baked from white flour rather than brown.  Those words were living history. 

The Oxford English Dictionary is set to retire a number of words, as it does periodically. Our language continues to change, and old words fall out of use.

It seems a shame to let them go.

Save the Words allows logophiles the opportunity to keep endangered words in circulation. The site places words for adoption–find a specific word or let Save the Words assign one–and offers ideas for using them.

I’ve registered for STW but haven’t yet adopted my word. There are so many to choose from.

Vampirarchy* is on my short list. I could work that one into conversation with no problem at all. I can imagine other people picking it up, too. It could go viral.

And the word has nothing to do with Twilight.

When it comes down to it, I’ll probably adopt several.

But back to beautiful words.

Tolkien was a fine writer, but he had a tin ear. Or perhaps he just forgot.

In any case, the most beautiful words in the English language are these:

lucent syrops tinct with cinnamon.

If that line went viral, the world would be a more beautiful place.


* A set of ruling persons, comparable to vampires.


The Hot Word

The Eve of St. Agnes, by John Keats

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5 thoughts on “Day 23: The most beautiful words

  1. I don’t think words should be retired. Words are sacred. They don’t lose their meanings–they are a part of history. That being said, I may have to look into adopting a few myself. Thanks for the heads up!


  2. Ooooh, Kathy, this is the most thought provoking post. It reminds me of inebriated conversations I used to have with other journalists late at night when everyone else in the restaurant had gone home and the waitresses were tapping their toes and looking at their watches, and there we were, lubricated and lyrical, comparing beautiful words.

    I feel Dylan Thomas could be your man here.

    My colleague gave me a sheet of tudor compliments and insults. I’ll probably blog about them, they’re so wonderful to listen to. You, Kathy, might be a celestial sweet-suggesting smilet: while our UK prime minister is undeniably a fobbing knotty- paled ratsbane. I have a whole sheet of these things. It’s a word-party.


    1. Okay, now I’m really going to have to read Dylan Thomas. I think milk wood has a lovely sound. Or perhaps it’s the image. It’s hard to separate the two.

      I would love to be a celestial sweet-suggesting smilet (though most people who know me would take issue with the designation), and I’m glad to have the reading on your prime minister. I hope you’ll blog about the list. Imaginative compliments and insults are in short supply.

      (And I’d love to have heard one of those conversations.)


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