Written Rambles

The Most Beautiful Words in the English Language

Apart from inspiring a slew of deranged Halloween costumes, Donnie Darko also offers some very valuable lessons about literature. No, I’m not talking about Grandma Death’s weird book about the space-time continuum, although I’m sure that’s a beneficial contribution to society too. No, I’m talking about Drew Barrymore’s reference to the supposedly most beautiful combination of words in the English language: cellar door.

While I’m sure the inclusion of this phrase was nothing more than a plot device, I still find the idea of “pretty words” fascinating. So, I decided to do what I do best: make a list and post it to the Internet. (Can I add this to my résumé yet? List-making? Get at me, future employers.) 

1) Labyrinthine (adj.): like a labyrinth; irregular and twisting

Pronounced lab-uh-rin-thin, this word even looks beautiful. Often used to describe circuits, mazes, or university dining halls, labyrinthine describes environments that resemble a labyrinth in complexity. Contrary to popular belief (or perhaps, just my understanding of the word before I looked it up), labyrinthine has nothing to do with Pan’s Labyrinth, so no one has to worry about seeing this guy in their dreams:


If I have to see this in my head every time someone says labyrinth, SO DO YOU.

2) Murmurous (adj.): characterized by murmurs

Are you sleeping yet? Then you haven’t read this word enough times. Murmurous is not only a lulling, calming word, it’s also onomatopoeic, meaning the sound mimics the action it defines. A murmur is a low, indistinct, continuous sound, which is the exact noise that you make when you say the word murmur. (Okay, I’ll stop with the 9th grade English teacher routine, but I want someone else to appreciate my literary passions, okay??)

3) Elision (n.): the omission of a sound or syllable when speaking

While “elision” brings back memories of my high school Latin class, the word itself has a beautiful sound when read aloud. It also is not at all related to Elysium, which is the word I keep accidentally typing when I go to write down this one. Matt Damon, get out of my head.

4) Cerulean (adj.): resembling the blue of the sky

Roses are red/Violets are cerulean/Animals would be dead/If I hadn’t gone vegan. I’m not good at poetry, and my love for bacon prevents me from going vegan, but nothing else rhymed with Cerulean in my head, so stop questioning me. Cerulean (se-ROO-lee-en) is a shade of blue that resembles the color of the sky or the color of Hugh Laurie’s corneas. Strange word choice, I know, but if I said “eye” then I’d be making a rhyme with “sky” and I can only handle so many poetry references in one paragraph.

5) Mignonette (n.): a herbaceous plant with spikes of small fragrant greenish flowers

I see this word and I picture filet mignon, but a mini version, like if a family of filets were to go out to eat and they brought their baby filet with them and carried it around in a little stroller and they referred to it as mignonette. It might be wearing a bonnet. What was I saying? Oh yeah. Mignonette is the perfect blend of class and food imagery, even though the second has absolutely no relation. Saying it out loud adds a hint of “fancy” to nearly any conversation.

6) Sesquipedalian (n.): given to or characterized by the use of long words

I don’t know how to say this term, either. The dictionary says it’s pronounced ses-kwi-pi-dey-lee-uhn, so I’m going to take their word for it (PUN ALERT). I mostly put this one down because of its definition, for obvious reasons.

7) Susurrus (n.): a soft murmuring or rustling sound

People seem to like murmuring because there are a lot of words for it. Susurrus, meaning a soft whisper noise, combines the best parts of S and R to make a strangely calming hiss-slur sound, like the kind of noise a drunk relative would make when trying to say “sure” or “tyrannosaurus” at the same time.

8) Carouse (v.): drink plentiful amounts of alcohol and enjoy oneself with others in a noisy, lively way

Nouns and adjectives are starting to dominate this list, so I thought I’d throw in a curveball. Carouse is just a fancy way of saying “partying hard.” I suspect English folk wearing dresses and sipping tea describe their Friday nights using this word, but that’s just a guess.

9) Flaneur (n.): an idler or lounger

Forget list-making. I’d like to add “professional flaneur” to my resume because not only does it accurately summarize my personality, but 90% of those reading it will think I either cook flans really well or that I speak French, and I would never deny either of those assumptions. As long as no one tries to make me prove my abilities, I’ll be fine.

There are plenty of other words that I could include here, but I’m going to leave the list at 9 because I know it annoys some of you OCD people and I’m in a button-pushing mood today. I also know that what words I find beautiful (and what professional linguists find beautiful) are not necessarily the only options. What words do you think are beautiful? What words did I miss?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=505525394 Alejandra Gutiérrez Pizarro

    Susurrus is interesting. In Spanish, the word for murmur is ‘susurro’, so this proves once again how extremely related languages are!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1110213794 Andrea Melendez

      Actually, the spanish word for murmur is ‘murmuro’ or ‘mumuración’. ‘Susurro’ means whisper!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=505525394 Alejandra Gutiérrez Pizarro

        Actually, ‘murmuro’ doesn’t exist as a noun, maybe you are looking for the word ‘murmullo’. Murmuración has a different meaning and is used in other contexts. And well, sorry, whisper and murmur are synonyms, as you can see in the definition given in the article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1040048360 Jennifer Wisniewski

    vermillion is a really pretty way to say orange….

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=717286288 Mérédith Mougeot

      “vermillion” is red

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006471770437 Timofey Agishchev

    I just got paid $5628 working off my laptop this month. And if you think that’s cool, my divorced friend has twin toddlers and made over $8.1k her first month. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to work for so much less. This is what I do, http://www.Best96.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=535809593 Alice Dielens

    In Belgium, “Mignonette” is also some kind of chocolate (from the Côte d’Or brand, look it up & try some if you can, it’s absolutely delicious!) Also, I love this article so much! I constantly stumble upon words I find beautiful. In fact, I have a list of favorite words in each language I speak/understand (I’m kind of a freak in that way, yes).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000470420017 Kate Butler

    I think this is my favourite article ever written. Never laughed so hard at an article before. I love it. 😛

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=506585130 Colleen Sweeney

    Cerulean is my favorite crayon color. I am trying to find cerulean nail colors, but haven’t been successful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002639834510 Marissa Block

    I love this article! One of my favorite words is melliflous. It’s an awesome word. Just say it! It sounds like its definition–dulcet; sweet sounding. It just is such a bouncy word.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000034403491 Aoife Kyle Munro

    Onomatopoeia is one my favourite words, it’s used to define words that sound like the object or action they refer to – like murmur for example!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003308095890 Sara St Martin

    Elixir is one of my favourite words.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1427137685 Renata Zorzin

    Mignonette is also a type of cut, a baton cut, of 6mm x 4cm (i’m brazilian, we use centimeters)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=534778359 Paul Poling

    Ailurophile is a cool word. I have friends who like cats, so this would be appropriate for them. Great words that you picked too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=623235496 Cori Potter

    I love the word Autumn

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=513675955 Candace Angell-Devine

    periwinkle :) The way the word sounds to me is what makes me love the color and the reason it is my favorite crayon in a crayola box :)

    My other favorite word because of the sound and meaning is serendipity :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=901035310 Viki Kotarba

      Serendipity is my favourite word. I called my daughter Seren so I can (almost) say it everyday!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002551639013 Mikaela Kelliher

      I have to agree with “serendipity” being one of my favorites. I try to use it as often as possible, mainly in its adverb form (serendipitous).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001422367724 Nadyne Ribeiro

    cellar door is on the new John Mayer’s music, listen to it, will love it ♥ badge and gun

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002137867059 Aafke Börger-Veenstra

    I really like the word “inevitable”, since it appeared in The Matrix. I had a really hard time pronouncing it, maybe that’s why 😉 And now, everytime it’s on tv, I’m like: yeah! There it is, again… inevitable! Yes! I can say it now!!
    (i’m not english…. duh!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=75402399 Lauren ‘lars’ Saulino

    I like the word esquire. When I say it I feel like I sound dainty and fancy. Add an English accent for added flair. 😉

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000298732085 Daniel Gribbin

    “Spackle” is the most beautiful sounding word in the English language.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=569943484 Sarah Dick

    Hugh Laurie’s corneas, like pretty much everyone else’s, are clear and virtually invisible. His IRISES are cerulean :-) (sorry LOL)

    But seriously, good list! I love the word onomatopoeia.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000573560464 Teena Marie

    I love the word “reverie”. I think it looks beautiful, sounds beautiful, and even the definition is beautiful– “a state of being pleasantly lost in one’s thoughts; a daydream”. Lovelovelove. <3

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=510345839 Angela Roquet Mothersbaugh

    I ♥ this article! I ♥ it so much, that I’m even able to hush my OCD inner prude, just for you. I’m a wordsmith, so it’s hard to pick just one favorite. Sparkle is a fun word. It’s just so happy. It’s like Spark and Twinkle got together and made a little word baby. Vixen is another good one, mostly because the imagery it conjures in my mind is so conflicted. Is it a sexy villainess or a reindeer? Lullaby, Musical, Scrumptious… I could go on and on. Le sigh. Oh, and when I hear the word Labyrinthine, I picture David Bowie in tight pants, not Mr. creepy eyeball hands. Thank goodness. : P

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