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:

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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