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
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”.