Beautiful Words

What makes a word beautiful? Attempts to create lists of the most beautiful words in current use have generated selections based on either the elegance of sound and structure or the feelings and concepts the words evoke, or some combination thereof.

Two of the more notable beautiful word lists are language expert Dr. Robert Beard’s compilation of the most beautiful words in the English language and the top-70 favourites generated via a British survey of more than 35,000 people in various countries.

Dr. Beard’s List of the 100 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language

Dr. Beard’s list, which is posted on his popular website, contains, for the most part, words that sound beautiful or elegant. Here is a small selection of words from the list (some of my favourites), along with synonyms or brief definitions:

    • Diffuse – disperse, spread, disseminate
    • Effervescent – fizzy, sparkling, bubbling; lively, vibrant, vivacious
    • Ephemeral – short-lived, transient, fleeting
    • Epiphany – sudden perception or intuitive grasp of meaning or essence; illuminated discovery or realization
    • Evanescent – vanishing like vapour
    • Gossamer – delicate, sheer, flimsy, filmy, transparent, diaphanous, gauzy
    • Halcyon – calm, peaceful, untroubled, quiet, still, heavenly
    • Languor – laziness, indolence, slowness, dreaminess, lethargy
    • Lassitude – tiredness, exhaustion, inertia, apathy
    • Lilt – cadence, inflection
    • Luxuriate – enjoy, savour, relish, delight in
    • Nebulous – vague, hazy, imprecise, ill-defined
    • Panacea – cure-all, universal remedy, magic potion
    • Penumbra – partial shade or shadow, obscurity, uncertainty
    • Plethora – overabundant, surfeit, excess, glut
    • Scintillate – to be brilliant, animated; to sparkle
    • Serendipity – chance, destiny, fate, luck, providence, fortune
    • Susurrus – rustling or whispering sound
    • Symbiosis – cooperative relationship between dissimilar entities

In addition to words that evoke positive feelings such as laughter, champagne, glamour, and whisper, the list also includes a number of relatively obscure words, such as:

    • Chatoyant – optical effect in certain gemstones that resembles the eye of a cat
    • Encomium – enthusiastic praise
    • Peregrination – traveling from place to place, usually on foot, especially via a circuitous route
    • Petrichor – the way the earth smells when it rains after a dry spell
    • Terpsichorean – a dancer (noun); related to dancing (adjective)
    • Tintinnabulation – the ringing of bells

The British Survey of the Most Beautiful Words in the English Language

The British survey, which spanned 46 countries, generated a very different list, with mother taking the number one spot, followed by:

    • Passion
    • Smile
    • Love
    • Eternity
    • Fantastic
    • Destiny
    • Freedom
    • Liberty
    • Tranquility

Most additional choices appear to have been made based on what each word evokes rather than the beauty of its inherent structure or sound. Nearly all of the words that were chosen are common and their meanings are well-known to most English speakers. Additional selections from the top 70 include:

    • Bliss
    • Cherish
    • Enthusiasm
    • Lullaby
    • Sunshine
    • Sweetheart

Beautiful Words That Didn’t Make the Lists

Judging the beauty of a word is a highly subjective process. The following words did not make either Dr. Beard’s list or the British survey’s top 70 but have popped up on people’s personal lists of favourites around the Web.

Beautiful Nouns

    • Ambiance – atmosphere, mood, “vibe”
    • Ambrosia – food of the gods; something that smells and tastes wonderful
    • Anathema – loathed
    • Aphorism – saying, maxim, adage, cliché
    • Avarice – greed
    • Cacophony – discordant or jarring noise
    • Cadence – lilt, intonation, accent, inflection, tone
    • Cataclysm – catastrophe, disaster, calamity
    • Catharsis – purge or release of previously subconscious negative feelings
    • Chasm – gulf, abyss, rift
    • Cipher – code, symbol, secret message; nobody, nonentity
    • Conflagration – fire, inferno
    • Consonance – agreement, harmony; repetition of consonants; sympathetic vibration
    • Cupidity – greed, avarice, covetousness, selfishness, miserliness
    • Decrepitude – disrepair, decay, collapse, ruin, shabbiness
    • Demagogue – one who has made false claims and promises, and used of the prejudices of others to gain power
    • Denouement – end, conclusion, finale
    • Disquietude – anxiety, agitation
    • Dissolution – closure, disbanding, termination, ending
    • Dissonance – discord, disagreement, dissension
    • Duplicity – deceit, dishonesty, disloyalty, treachery, unfaithfulness
    • Enigma – mystery, puzzle, riddle
    • Ennui – boredom, languor, tedium, world-weariness
    • Epitome – essence, height, embodiment, archetype
    • Hedonist – one who believes that pleasure is the primary purpose or good in life
    • Litany – long recitation, often involving individual items (i.e., complaints)
    • Maelstrom – violent whirlpool that sucks in everything in its midst, violent or turbulent situation
    • Malaise- depression, dissatisfaction, melancholy
    • Miasma – mist, haze, fog, murk, cloud
    • Minutia – trivial detail
    • Nadir – lowest point
    • Nexus – connection, link, center
    • Opulence – wealth, luxury, lavishness
    • Oscillation – fluctuation, vacillation, alternation, undulation
    • Pandemonium – mayhem, chaos, bedlam
    • Paroxysm – convulsion, fit, spasm, outburst
    • Quintessence – essence, epitome, embodiment, personification, perfect example, ideal
    • Sepulchre – tomb, grave, crypt, mausoleum, resting place
    • Svengali – a persuasive, manipulative individual with evil intent
    • Synchronicity – being synchronized, meaningful coincidence
    • Zenith – highest point, peak of success

Elegant Verbs

    • Beguile – entice, lure, charm, captivate, mesmerize, fascinate, enthrall
    • Cascade – flow, fall, gush, surge, tumble
    • Coalesce – unite, combine, come together
    • Cohere – join together, gel, stick together
    • Encompass – include
    • Enrapture – captivate, enchant, beguile, enthrall, fascinate
    • Invoke – evoke, bring to mind, call upon, appeal to, remind of, make reference to
    • Malinger – feign injury or illness to avoid duty or work
    • Rhapsodize – speak or write in an extravagantly emotional manner
    • Suffuse – flood, spread, permeate, imbue, steep, fill

Evocative Adjectives

    • Amorphous – formless, shapeless, nebulous, unstructured, fluid
    • Aquiline – curved, hooked
    • Arcane – mysterious, esoteric, secret, deep, unfathomable, hidden, unknowable
    • Bacchanalian – riotous, boisterous, drunken revelry or festivity
    • Byzantine – complex, intricate, convoluted, complicated
    • Capricious – unpredictable, impulsive, variable, changeable, fickle, unreliable, erratic
    • Cerebral – intellectual, rational, brainy, analytical, logical
    • Cloying – overly sweet or sentimental, syrupy, sugary
    • Consanguineous – of the same origin or blood
    • Contumacious – rebellious
    • Craven – cowardly, spineless, weak
    • Crestfallen – dejected, disappointed, deflated
    • Dauntless – fearless
    • Demotic – common, popular
    • Desiccated – dry, shriveled, dehydrated
    • Desultory – aimless, random, haphazard, indiscriminate
    • Diaphanous – almost transparent, see-through, sheer, filmy, gossamer
    • Dilapidated – decrepit, rundown, decaying, ramshackle
    • Disconsolate – unhappy, gloomy, dejected, miserable
    • Disingenuous – insincere, untruthful, hypocritical, deceitful, devious
    • Dispassionate – calm, composed, unruffled, unemotional
    • Draconian – cruel, severe
    • Ebullient – happy, cheerful, fun, jovial
    • Extemporaneous – impromptu, makeshift, spur of the moment
    • Idyllic – peaceful, tranquil, restful, calm, relaxing, pleasant
    • Impassioned – emotional, fervent, ardent
    • Impervious – impermeable, resistant, unreceptive, inflexible, unyielding, unwavering, rigid, unmovable
    • Impetuous – rash, hasty, impulsive, reckless
    • Incandescent – glowing, radiant, luminescent
    • Incarnate – personified, in person, alive
    • Incendiary – flammable, provocative, inflammatory, aggressive, rabble-rousing
    • Incognito – disguised, undercover, anonymously
    • Incorporeal – disembodied, ghostly, spiritual, ethereal
    • Inexorable – unalterable, unstoppable, unchangeable, inescapable, inevitable, unavoidable, relentless
    • Iridescent – shimmering, shining, glistening, glittering
    • Languid – relaxed, leisurely, lazy, indolent, lethargic, sleepy, graceful, slow-moving
    • Lascivious – lustful, lewd
    • Luminous – glowing, brilliant, shining, radiant, bright, incandescent
    • Machiavellian – scheming, deceitful, tricky, cunning, sly, underhanded, wily
    • Malevolent – malicious, wicked, spiteful
    • Mellifluous – quiet, low, gentle, melodious
    • Mercurial – unpredictable, changeable
    • Myriad – countless, numerous
    • Nebulous – vague, hazy, ill-defined
    • Nefarious – evil, wicked, despicable
    • Querulous – argumentative, cantankerous, irritable, difficult, petulant, grouchy, confrontational
    • Quiescent – quiet, dormant, inactive, inert
    • Quixotic – idealistic, romantic, unrealistic, dreamy
    • Salacious – scandalous, exciting, sensational
    • Sanguinary – murderous, bloodthirsty
    • Saturnine – sardonic, gloomy
    • Somnolent – sleepy, drowsy
    • Sonorous – resonant, echoing, loud, deep
    • Soporific – sleep-inducing
    • Stygian – forbidding, dark, gloomy
    • Sublime – transcendent, uplifting, magnificent, inspiring
    • Succulent – juicy, tender, moist, luscious
    • Tempestuous – stormy, passionate, emotional, turbulent
    • Tessellated – having a mosaic pattern or checkered appearance
    • Visceral – intuitive, instinctive, gut (as in gut feeling)
    • Vulpine- foxy, crafty
    • Scurrilous – insulting, slanderous, defamatory, libelous
    • Supercilious – arrogant, condescending, disdainful, haughty, pompous, patronizing

For the full winning word lists, see Dr. Beard’s 100 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language.

Word lovers may also wish to read Intelligent Words, Funny Words, and Commonly Misused Words. For a full list of writers’ articles and resources, visit the Writing Resources page.

One thought on “Beautiful Words”

  1. I stumbled upon your site, I enjoy all of the information on it, I even bookmarked it! Keep it up, thankss.

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