05 March 2009

A Paean to Beautiful Words

AlphaDictionary has just posted Dr. Robert Beard's 100 Most Beautiful Words in English. As is often the case with these sorts of lists, Beard couldn't really stick to his numerical parameter and make the last few cuts, so the list is really 110 words.

"Verisimilitudinous" doesn't make the list, alas. It has all the requisite soft consonants, and is probably as common and more useful for writers than "potamophilous" or "inspissate." But this is Dr. Beard's list, not mine.

For some of the words, the definition is obviously part of the beauty. The list defines "offing" as "That part of the sea between the horizon and the offshore," which sounds lovely and, I suppose, produced the metaphorical phrase "in the offing."

But of course the same word has a practical meaning, as in, "I was interrupted in the middle of offing Jimmy the Frogman, so I ended up offing two other guys and a cat as well." That "offing" doesn't sound nearly as beautiful.

Other words' definitions are apparently obscure enough not to interfere with our enjoyment of their beauty. "Moiety" sounds nice, but its prosaic meaning doesn't match up. "Pyrrhic" can be quite bloody, as in the British military's Pyrrhic victory at Bunker Hill. And "surreptitious" and "plethora" overcome their negative connotations with their cascades of soft syllables.

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