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Cellar Door

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In phonaesthetics, the English compound noun cellar door has been cited as an example of a word or phrase which is beautiful purely in terms of its sound, without regard for its meaning. It has been variously presented either as merely one beautiful instance of many, or as the most beautiful in the English language.[1]


In a 1955 lecture, J.R.R. Tolkien stated that “Most English-speaking people ... will admit that cellar door is 'beautiful', especially if dissociated from its sense (and from its spelling). More beautiful than, say, sky, and far more beautiful than beautiful.”


It’s been suggested that Edgar Allen Poe chose the word ‘Nevermore’ for the refrain of The Raven because of its similarity to the euphony of 'cellar door.' I recall that even Drew Barrymore’s character in the film Donnie Darko makes reference to it when asked why she's written it on the chalkboard: “This famous linguist once said that of all the phrases in the English language, of all the endless combinations of words in all of history, that cellar door is the most beautiful.”


As early as 1903 - and possibly its point of origin - a Shakespeare scholar, Cyrus Lauron Hooper, wrote in his novel Gee-Boy: "He was laughed at by a friend, but logic was his as well as sentiment; an Italian savant maintained that the most beautiful combination of English sounds was cellar-door..."


I’m not a linguist, but language fascinates me, and certain words energize me purely for how they sound when spoken:


·         Fuselage

·         Metamorphosis

·         Sanguine

.         Disposition

·         Asphyxiation

·         Paprika


(the list could go on)


Cellar door belongs on the list. I understand its resonance. As a writer, I never just write a sequence of events to move the plot forward. I intentionally choose to arrange words that create flow, even if that means stepping outside of some standard grammar rules (a reason I enjoy writing poetry, too) and even if it's just to please my own ears.


Are there certain words that do this for you? Roll off the tongue nicely; cause an emotional response simply for how they sound when spoken?


I'm curious to “hear” yours.



[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellar_door

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9 hours ago, Carlos Hazday said:



I had a reader send me an e-mail this weekend claiming I was forcing him to keep his dictionary handy while he read my stuff. All because I used limerence.


@MichaelS36 I'll see your petrichor and raise you a vellichor. (I'll show you mine if you show me yours LOL) And I'll match moist with aquiver. :P


Other favorites:






Really? Do you have your own old bookshop? Mine contains mainly books in German, some English on the Luftwaffe. So it is a bit musty!

Edited by MichaelS36
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Although this post is a bit older, I'd like to add to it because I tend to think about the sound (and rhythm) of words a lot and I always get the impression I'm alone at this on an every day level, so to speak  - like, I tend to think about these things spontaneously when they occur in everyday life. So, thanks for posting your thoughts on this topic.

As a non-native speaker I'm often fascinated with English words which are new to me, or sometimes with words that I don't encounter very often.

One of my favourite English words has become serendipity (not English in origin, I know, but it has found its way into the language - and what a nice word it is in every aspect: meaning, sound, and rhythm).

Another example would be haphazardly.

I guess one could say that phonaesthetics is a key component to (almost) every text.


... and btw: 'limerence', that is difficult to grasp...

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