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.

References

The Hot Word

The Eve of St. Agnes, by John Keats

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Building bridges, forming bonds

When I was teaching English, I arranged for students to have pen pals. I don’t remember the details–whether I required them to participate in the project or promised those who did extra credit. I might have simply offered to send names to an agency to be matched with potential correspondents.

I do remember why I did it. I wanted to show them that writing could be fun. I wanted them to see it as more than essays and research papers, to understand that it could build bridges and form bonds and open new worlds.

I also wanted them to write freely, without fear of judgment, so after getting them started, I withdrew from the project.

Last week I received an e-mail from K.M., one of those students. She told me she and her pen pal have been corresponding for twenty-eight years. He’s coming from Australia this month to meet her.

She said she’s thrilled and ended with, “Thank you!”

I’m thrilled, too. Consider: how many letters, how many words they’ve written; how much they’ve learned; how much they’ve shared; how much has changed since they stamped and mailed those first envelopes. They’ve gone from pen and paper to e-mail. They’ve moved from adolescence to adulthood. Twenty-eight years. My mind boggles just thinking about it.

But I don’t deserve thanks. I spent probably less than an hour on the project. I got things going.

K.M. and her pen pal did the rest. They took an exercise and made it real. The bridge, the bond, the new world–everything I wanted for them, they did.

So thank you, K.M., for writing, and for telling me the rest of the story.

That’s one of the finest gifts I’ve ever received.