One of the books I treasure most sat for many years on a shelf in my darling mother Dorothy’s apartment. It’s called One Thousand Beautiful Things. It’s a collection of lovely stories, poems, short plays, and inspirational quotes from many of the world’s most adored and revered authors.
One selection nestled in the middle of the book is entitled “Ten Beautiful Words.” It is a list compiled by the famous lexicographer Wilfred Funk of Funk & Wagnalls of what he considered to be the loveliest words in the English language. In his view, they were “beautiful in meaning and in the musical arrangement of their letters.”
Here is his list, compiled, he noted, “after a thorough sifting of thousands of words” — dawn, hush, lullaby, murmuring, tranquil, mist, luminous, chimes, golden, and melody.
All these words do have a lovely, lilting rhythm when they’re spoken aloud don’t they? Of course, each of us might come up with a different list if we were to give some thought of it. Henry James once said that the two most beautiful words in the English language are “summer afternoon” — and that’s pretty hard to argue with!
In any case, as we write, it may be useful to keep in mind the two criteria that Wilfred came up with in selecting his words: beautiful in meaning and beautiful in the musical, rhythmic arrangement of their letters. Choosing words with these qualities can surely make a difference In our wordsmithery. I know for example, that Vladimir Nabokov choose the name “Lolita” for the heroine of his novel because of the lazy, luscious way that it rolled off the tongue.
Something to think about: What ten beautiful words would you choose?