Discriminating words on aesthetics grounds

Have you ever wondered what the most beautiful word of the English language is? I have. In fact, many of us have and what spontaneously occurred to me was that, beauty being subjective, there is no answer to that question. And yet, after some research on the Internet, I realised that there has been a lot of research done to find an answer to that question.

Cellar Door

If you ask your two favourite oracles (Wikipedia and Google) about what the most beautiful word in English would be, they point at an obscure “cellar door.” Clearly, it is not related to what it represents. Wikipedia elaborates on how several factors, including historical and literary ones have led to the conclusion that “cellar door” would be the most beautiful word in English. After repeating the word several times in your head, then uttering it aloud with different accent (the British one is supposed to suit it best), it is quite likely that you will acknowledge “cellar door” as a nice phonetic piece.

The people’s choice


The one flaw I see in that analysis is that it seems to be based on a bunch of scholars’ choices. It is not that representative of what the everyday people think and what their favourite words are. The British Council asked 7,000 English learners what they thought the most beautiful word is and came up with a list of the 70 most beautiful English words, “mother” as number one. Undertaking the counterpart of the “cellar door” case and taking it one step further than the British Council, we, at bab.la, have set up an application generating two random words or sets of words in English. You can then click on the one that appeals most to you to generate two new words, etc. The number of clicks will be used to determine the most popular words among the database. As I am writing that article, we have some 156,200 clicks out of the 100,000,000 clicks we need to decide what the most beautiful word is. There is a long way yet to go, but it will mirror what people actually consider their favourite words to be.

All fun and even a hint of learning

As new clicks are registered, the top 25 most beautiful and ugliest words lists are updated and can be consulted right below the game itself. Unexpected words will be read in both lists…
The game is quite addictive and it is hard to quit once you have started! Some choices will be obvious, some a lot less. I was suggested that it could be quite amusing to make a sentence with the two words popping up – you could make up some very unexpected segments!
You will also encounter some oddities or words you have never read before. Great opportunity to enhance your word power!

Get hooked now on: http://en.bab.la/most-beautiful-word/

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3 thoughts on “Discriminating words on aesthetics grounds”

  1. Of course it is (1)subjective. Dennis Potter’s “Singing Detective” vouchsafed ‘elbow’.
    TMBWITEL is ‘daughter’.

  2. Cellar door is maybe possessive to some of perceivable mellifluence, but being two words means disqualification, not so? This quest is impossible yet addictive. If verbs are permitted, ‘dwell’ is mellow and harmonious.

  3. I remember from an English lesson at Highschool or University (Germany), that once a very self-centered looking sure-of-himself “professional” chose a word like “Cellar Door” as one of his favourite, and did a very funny life phonetic demonstration.
    As far as I remember his word was actually “cellophane”. Almost the same, almost the same repellng to me.

    Maybe as a German native speaker my jaws are already stressed too much to like words like these, where you have to switch between three totally different vowels/syllabusses (?).
    Right now I learn Turkish, which has an interesting system about Vocal Harmony Structure. Makes vocabulary and grammer horrible at first sight. But makes words and sentences sound much more fluent and “beautiful” on its own.

    My favourite English word? Would be something with an “A” pronounced British. Like apple. Not that chewing gum North American that I was exposed to for almost 2 years.
    Beauty is not just about how it sounds, but also how to pronounce it. (and a bit its actual meaning. Nothing is every comletey out of context. Manure sounds great and almost like cellophane, but would you call it beautiful?)

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