The other day I was looking around Language Hat (an interesting language blog that I recommend you check out) and happened onto one of its linked pages, Jeff Miller's Collection of Word Oddities and Trivia. There's a small collection of "Beautiful Words" there. Looking at the many words which, through one individual's preference or various surveys, had the honour of being called the English language's "Most Beautiful Word", I began to think about my own opinion. I wrote a bit about in at Lang-8 yesterday.
It was difficult to chose. There are so many words in the English language, and although I know only a fraction of them I still have quite a large selection to choose from. Add the unfortunate fact that one can't even call to mind half of that extensive vocabulary when one tries. Besides the problem of the English language's breadth, I started thinking about the problem of categorizing a word into the 'beautiful' category. Of course the definitive quality when considering a word's beauty would be the sound of that word, wouldn't it? To determine whether a word is beautiful could simply be deciding whether or not you find it euphonious. But I'm sure words are disqualified from being considered 'beautiful' by the connotations which they have. A word with an ugly meaning has a much smaller chance of being called 'beautiful,' even if the sounds of that word in isolation are pleasing to the ear. For native speakers, at least, I think meaning is what comes to mind before sound. I have to admit that I think "putrescence" is a lot of fun to say, and maybe even that it has an almost elegant sound, but unfortunately its meaning ruins the package.
After a lot of hemming and hawing I thought I would chose "evanescence" (it's obvious I like "-scence" sounds, isn't it). I think the open vowels and the soothing, hum-like quality of its consonants contributes to an overall beautiful sound; it's easy on the tongue. It isn't quite melodious, though. I don't know if I always find individual words melodious, but I do often find various sentences, combinations, or phrases to be melodious. Perhaps it has something to do with length.
Today I found an article about 'beautiful words' in the New York Times which is an interesting read. Reading about the Italian who agreed that "cellar-door" is the "the most beautiful combination of English sounds" in the language, I recalled my own thoughts about what I found to be the most "beautiful combination" of Japanese sounds:
｢ドアが閉まります」 or in hiragana - どあ が しまります; or in romaji - doa ga shimarimasu.
This means "The door is closing", and is usually followed by ｢ご注意ください」, "please be careful", or "caution". You hear it about every day... Anywhere there is a closing door. Naturally to native Japanese speakers this is entertaining, because the the meaning is so ordinary I doubt anyone gives this combination of words a second thought. But I find it melodious.
I asked some Japanese readers what they thought (their answers - and many corrections to my post - are on Lang-8 of course). I found all of their answers to be euphonious in my own opinion too. One phrase which I hadn't thought about, but which I do think sounds quiet melodious, was tomochanさん‘s suggestion: "without saying goodbye". The words seem to flow into one another. (Perhaps the 'wistfulness' of the phrase also contributes to its euphony, though...?)
As a foreign speaker of a language, which words of that language do you think sound beautiful? Elegant? Funny? What about in your own language? I think this is the kind of opinion that will change often. There are so many words to think of!
Today, for example, I have decided I quite enjoy the word "lament" or "licorice". And a very melodious Japanese word would be マックドナルド (McDonald's).