Beautiful Words

What makes a word beautiful?? Several weeks ago The Manofesto brought you, courtesy of Pinterest, a list of 100 Words Every High Graduate Should Know, and today, also via Pinterest, we are talking about beautiful words. As it turns out, there is an actual…science…that aims to tackle that question. The study of the inherent pleasantness or unpleasantness of the sound of words, phrases, & sentences is called phonaesthetics. Folks actually examine things like the implication of smallness in the close vowels of such words as “teeny weeny” or unpleasant associations of the consonant cluster sl in words like “slime”, “slug”, & “slush”. Euphony, or the quality of being pleasing to the ear, is contrasted with cacophony, or a harsh, discordant mixture of sounds. Beautiful words oftentimes have three or more syllables, an emphasis on the first syllable, and the presence of particular letters that we enjoy saying, such as “l” and “M”. Obviously a word’s meaning can affect the way we feel about it, although that isn’t always the case, and the connotation one connects with a word can have a positive or negative effect. I work with a young lady who hates the word “moist”, and from what I understand her disdain isn’t unusual. Conversely, I associate “moist” with a yummy cake that isn’t dry, therefore it isn’t a negative word for me. As an avid reader and an aspiring writer I have an appreciation for authors whose prose have an effortless lyricism. It takes more than a single word to achieve that kind of beauty, but it helps to begin with words that have such qualities. I’m not sure how this specific list was selected, but I tend to agree with most of the choices. As with the aforementioned list of words everyone should know I have included definitions for each word as well as the occasional pithy remark. Enjoy.




ailurophile           a cat lover

I’m a cynophilist (dog lover) myself, but to each their own.


assemblage        a collection or gathering of persons or things



becoming            attractively suitable


beleaguer           to exhaust with attacks; trouble, harass


brood                   to think anxiously or gloomily about; to sit quietly and thoughtfully; to dwell gloomily on a subject

Brooding seems kind of depressing. I much prefer to ponder.


bucolic                 relating to or typical of rural life

I’m a little torn on this one. It sounds a bit…medical, doesn’t it?? Perhaps it’s too close to “bubonic”. I much prefer the synonyms “idyllic” or “pastoral”.


bungalow            a small, cozy cottage



chatoyant           having a changeable luster or color with an undulating narrow band of white light

I’ve never heard the word. I need more information.


comely                pleasurably conforming to notions of good appearance, suitability, or proportion; having a pleasing appearance


conflate               to blend together


cynosure             a focal point of attraction or attention

I’ve never heard of this word.



dalliance             frivolous or trifling interaction


demesne             legal possession of land as one’s own


demure                shy & reserved; modest


denouement       the resolution of a mystery; the final outcome of the main dramatic complication in a literary work

If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan just think about the last couple of pages of every story. If you aren’t a Sherlock Holmes fan…what are you doing with your life?!?!??


desuetude                    discontinuance from use or exercise

Maybe this word should be desuetuded. I have no idea if I used it correctly, and I honestly don’t care.


desultory             marked by lack of purpose; disappointing in progress, performance, or quality


diaphanous        characterized by such fineness of texture as to permit seeing through; characterized by extreme delicacy of form; insubstantial, vague


dissemble           to hide under a false appearance


dulcet                  generally pleasing or agreeable; pleasing to the ear or sweet to the taste

I most often hear this word in relation to a good singer’s voice.



ebullience           lively or enthusiastic expression of thoughts or feelings


effervescent        bubbly, lively, exhilarating

Ebullience is a noun, while effervescent is an adjective. See the difference??


efflorescence      the action or process of blossoming; fullness of manifestation; culmination


elision                  dropping a sound or syllable in a word

For example, “ne’er” is an elided form of “never” and similarly, “gonna” is an elision of the phrase “going to.” When we sing our national anthem we say “o’er the ramparts we watched” instead of “over”.


elixir                     a substance held capable of prolonging life; a sweetened liquid usually containing alcohol that is used in medication either for its medicinal ingredients or as a flavoring

I am reminded of two fantastic episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. In Alcohol & Old Lace two sweet little old ladies have a secret still in their greenhouse and sell what they refer to as elixir, but in reality it is pure moonshine. In Aunt Bea’s Medicine Man Aunt Bea buys some “miracle elixir” from a charlatan and ends up getting her entire ladies’ church group snockered.


eloquence                    beauty & persuasion in speech


embrocation       a liniment or lotion used for rubbing on the body to relieve pain


emollient             making soft or supple


ephemeral                    lasting a very short time

I really like this word a lot. It is much lovelier than “temporary” or “fleeting”.


epiphany             a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something; an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure


erstwhile              at one time or for a time; in the past


ethereal               celestial, heavenly, unworldly, spiritual; invisible but detectable; lacking material substance


evanescent         vanishing quickly, lasting a very short time

I’m pretty sure this word was in the other list, although I’m too lazy to actually look.


evocative             tending to cause an emotional response; bringing strong images, memories, or feelings to mind



fetching               pretty, attractive, pleasing

Between “becoming”, “comely”, & “fetching” gentlemen in The Manoverse have learned some new ways to hit on women. You’re welcome.


felicity                  the quality or state of being happy; something that causes happiness; a pleasing manner or quality


forbearance        a refraining from the enforcement of something that is due; withholding response to provocation

The world would be a better place if more people were good at this.


fugacious           lasting a short time

Basically the same thing as evanescent.


furtive                  done in a quiet and secretive way to avoid being noticed; expressive of stealth; obtained underhandedly

I think I like the synonym “surreptitious” a little better.



gambol                to skip or leap about joyfully

I’d lean more toward the synonym “frolic”.


glamour               an exciting, often illusory romantic attractiveness


gossamer            something light, delicate, or insubstantial



halcyon               happy, sunny, care-free, calm, peaceful

Usually used while waxing nostalgic about a past time that we perceive as having been better.


harbinger             a person or thing that initiates a major change; something that gives an anticipatory sign of what is to come



imbrication                    overlapping and forming a regular pattern (as of tiles or scales)


imbroglio             an altercation or complicated situation; a confused mass

I think I ate some imbroglio with meatballs once.


imbue                  to infuse & instill; to permeate or influence


incipient               beginning to come into being or to become apparent


ineffable               unutterable, inexpressible; incapable of being expressed in words


ingénue               a naïve young woman

From the French “Aren’t you new??” (I’m kidding)


inglenook            a cozy nook by the hearth

But what about an inglecranny??


insouciance        blithe nonchalance

Not just nonchalance…BLITHE nonchalance lol. FYI…it means lighthearted unconcern.


inure                              to accustom to accept something undesirable



labyrinthine         twisting & turning

Ehhh…I don’t know. I feel like anyone using this word is just trying way too hard to make themselves seem intelligent.


lagniappe            something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure; a small gift given to a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase

I think I once bought a venti soy lagniappe at Starbucks.


lagoon                 a small gulf or inlet

You’re thinking about Brooke Shields now for the first time in 20 years, aren’t you??


languor                listlessness & inactivity


lassitude             weariness, listlessness

Well…now you know two fancy ways to say “lazy”. You’re welcome.


leisure                 freedom provided by the cessation of activities;


lilt                         a spirited & cheerful tune; a springy buoyant movement; a rhythmical swing, flow, or cadence


lissome                easily flexed


lithe                      characterized by easy flexibility and grace

I think I prefer “nimble” to either of these words.


love                      deep affection



mellifluous                     sweet sounding; having a smooth rich flow

I love this word. It should be used more.


moiety                 one of two equal parts

This was in the other list as well. I don’t find it particularly beautiful, I’ve never heard anyone use it, and I just think using “half” is simpler & more straightforward.


mondegreen       a word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung

For example, “hold me closer Tony Danza”.


murmurous         low & indistinct



nemesis              a formidable rival or opponent

Nemesis was a Greek goddess who enacted retribution against those who succumbed to hubris.



offing                    the near or foreseeable future


onomatopoeia    a word that sounds like its meaning; the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it

I first learned about these when playing Scrabble with a co-worker several years ago (it was a boring job). Examples include “swoosh”, “meow”, & “buzz”.


opulent                lush; amply or plentifully provided



palimpsest                    writing material (such as a parchment or paper) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased; something having diverse layers apparent beneath the surface


panacea              a solution for all problems; a remedy for all ills or difficulties

FYI…no such thing exists on Earth.


panoply               a full suit of armor; a magnificent or impressive array


pastiche              a literary, artistic, musical, or architectural work that imitates the style of previous work

I own a few Sherlock Holmes pastiches.


penumbra           a space of partial illumination (as in an eclipse) between the perfect shadow on all sides and the full light; a body of rights held to be guaranteed by implication in a civil constitution; something that covers, surrounds, or obscures


petrichor              the smell of earth after rain

Who knew there was a name for that smell?!?!??


plethora               a large quantity; abundance

Y’all know I love this word, right??


propinquity          the state of being close to someone or something; proximity


Pyrrhic                 successful with heavy losses; costly to the point of negating or outweighing expected benefits

The phrase “Pyrrhic victory” comes from King Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose army suffered irreplaceable casualties in defeating the Romans at the Battle of Heraclea in 280 BC & the Battle of Asculum in 279 BC during the Pyrrhic War.



quintessential     the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form; the most typical representation or example



ratatouille            a spicy French stew made of eggplant, tomatoes, green peppers, squash, & sometimes meat


ravel                    to separate or undo the texture of; disentangle

Point of clarification: no one really uses the word “ravel” anymore, while “unravel” is common.  Anything that is metaphorically a fabric can unravel…a relationship or an untrue story. A “ravel” is a loose thread that has “raveled out”.


redolent               fragrant or aromatic


riparian                relating to or living or located on the bank of a river, lake or, stream


ripple                    a very small wave

Also Fred Sanford’s favorite liquor.

Yes, I am aware that no one under the age of 45 will get that joke.



scintilla                 a spark or trace


sempiternal         eternal

Why not just use “eternal”??


seraglio               the rich, luxurious palace of a sultan


serendipity                    finding something nice while looking for something else; the phenomenon of finding valuable things not sought for


summery             light & delicate; warm & sunny; of, resembling, or fit for summer


sumptuous          extremely costly, rich, luxurious, or magnificent


surreptitious        done, made, or acquired by stealth; acting or doing something clandestinely

See, I told you!!


susurrous            whispering or hissing



talisman              a good luck charm


tintinnabulation   the ringing or sounding of bells

Think of this word at Christmastime when the Salvation Army is hanging out near your favorite retail outlet.


umbrella              a collapsible shade for protection against weather consisting of fabric stretched over hinged ribs radiating from a central pole

I never really thought of “umbrella” as a beautiful word, but I can kind of see it.


untoward             difficult to guide, manage, or work with; not favorable



vestigial               remaining as the last small part of something that existed before



wafture                the act of waving or a wavelike motion


wherewithal        means or supplies for the purpose or need with which to do something


woebegone        sorrowful, downcast; exhibiting great woe, sorrow, or misery

Author & humorist Garrison Keillor created the fictional Minnesota town of Lake Wobegon back in the 80’s. In his books & long running radio show A Prairie Home Companion it is described as “a town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve”.

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