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A Rose By Any Other Name…

August 25, 2011

Quick, what’s the most beautiful word in the English language?  Notwithstanding the “cellar door” suggestion, I think the question neatly isolates the question of what qualities go into beauty and aesthetics.

I heard the suggestion of “perfection,” which I quite like, even though it seems somewhat tautologous (i.e., “What is the perfect word?  Perfect”).  But as I considered it further, my own sensibility leans towards words that sort of have an internal poetry (and not just lyricism).  For example, the word “lovely” sounds lovely, the word “chaotic” seemed to contain its own phonetic chaos, and so on.  These autological words–that is, words that describe themselves–contain a sort of symmetry that I find delightful.

Additional, though less lovely, examples of autologies include:

  • “Short” is short
  • “Common” is common
  • “English” is English
  • “Noun” is a noun
  • “Pentasyllabic” has five syllables
  • “Sesquipedalian” is a long word
  • “Unhyphenated” is unhyphenated
  • “Word” is a word

and the list goes on.

However, as you look at these words and how they are associated with their own phenomena, does the definition of these words become a chicken-and-egg problem?  That is to say, were the words chosen to describe a phenomenon because they themselves are examples of the phenomenon, and are thus necessarily autological?  In that case, isn’t every autological word an example of begging the question, and therefore contains a veneer of artificiality on top of the beauty of the word?  Or perhaps we only believe words like “lovely” to be lovely because they are usually right next to things that are lovely, and therefore the association rubs off on the descriptor?  Doesn’t either possibility diminish the beauty of an autological word?  Oh, the language games we play.

Since it doesn’t mean anything anyway, what’s your favorite word?  No reason/rationale required.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Shelbsthomcat permalink
    August 26, 2011 1:17 pm

    While “cellar door” maybe a contender, I’ve always heard the most beautiful word in the English language is the sound of your own name. I’ve always been partial to the word apparently.

    A few more?


    But that’s just me, Shelby.


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