June 25, 2005

Today's word challenge.

I'm looking at my old copy of "The Book of Lists," which has a list of the "10 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language" and a list of "The 10 Worst-Sounding English Words." (The lists are from different sources, in case you're wondering about the lack of parallel titles.)

10 Best: chimes, dawn, golden, hush, lullaby, luminous, melody, mist, murmuring, tranquil.

10 Worst: cacaphony, crunch, flatulent, gripe, jazz, phlegmatic, plump, plutocrat, treachery.

With the exception of "jazz" -- which just doesn't belong on the "worst" list -- all of these words align sound and meaning. That is, the words that sound beautiful mean something beautiful, and the words that sound ugly, have a negative meaning as well.

So here's the challenge: come up with words that sound beautiful but mean something ugly, or sound ugly but mean something beautiful.

53 comments:

Dave said...

As for the worst list: I like all those words.

"Prune" sounds innocuous, but prunes are disgusting, especially when one considers the reasons why one typically eats them.

"Albumen" has always irked me, but it's actually something quite innocuous, of course.

Robert said...

Workaday word that is extremely beautiful: "cellar door"

Slocum said...

I once had a cashier check me out whose name tag read 'Deleteria'. Sounds pretty enough if you don't know the word 'deleterious' (as I'm sure her parents did not).

Ann Althouse said...

Deleteria -- sounds like it might be a combination delicatessen/cafeteria.

She might have a sister named Diarrhea. That's quite lovely now, isn't it?

Scott said...

"Macabre" is a nice enough word, despite its morbid connotation.

Meade said...

"Plump" doesn't sound ugly to my ear, at least not the way 'flop, 'plop,' and 'plunk' do. Plus, I think there's nothing more beautiful than a ripe juicy plump peach unless it's a pair of ripe juicy plump lips.

Jamie said...

Niggardly is a negative word that has no racial meaning, but in today's illiterate world, that's the first thing that would pop into anyone's mind.

I'm not sure if that is a commentary on our vocabularies or our poor state of race relations, but it's sad either way.

I don't need to mention the joke about the 12 inch pianist, either, do I?

EddieP said...

Islam sounds beautiful to me, but when I hear it, ugly is all I can think of.

SippicanCottage said...
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dgm said...

i've never really liked the word "blog," but i love reading them and writing one. "blog" just sounds really stupid, maybe because its crafted from another made-up word and lacks any impressive latin or greek roots.

Terri said...

Meconium. There's an old story going around that a mother was in the hospital and heard the nurses talking about meconium and declared that was what she wanted to name her son, what a wonderful word! She was talked out of it.

SippicanCottage said...
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Jeff Harrell said...

I vote for "sterquilinian."

It means "of or pertaining to a dung heap."

SippicanCottage said...
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MarkT said...

'WYSIWYG' sounds like a hairpiece for a woman who is very good at something, a wig for a whiz. It make me cringe.

'Gulag' is an ugly word with an ugly meaning and recently used to ugly ends. Sadly, it sounds too much like goulash, which being a food word, is of course beautiful.

ploopusgirl said...

Okay Sippician, except that when "parties" are announced for birthday parties or for most events, last names are used most often. DeBrie seems a rather normal French surname.

Ann Althouse said...

Goulash is an excellent response to the challenge. Foods should sound appetizing, but sometimes we give them a funny name for fun -- and sometimes it's just a foreign word that has a strange connection to English. Goulash sounds like galoshes.

Lots of medical terms for bad things sound pretty, like diptheria, which reminds me of ethereal.

John said...

Meretricious! Pulchritude!

SippicanCottage said...
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Slac said...

"Nefarious." There's some kind of high-class mystique about it, and it also sounds soft and playful.

"Amiable." I hate hearing this word. It has a sharp manipulative edge, like "malleable," but with the word "aim," like people are being shot at. You'll notice it's mostly used to describe the quality of a good sales person. As if an amiable person is good at hunting down humans.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Antonym of abyss = precipice? pinnacle?

Not exactly on topic, but I love the made up word from the Simpsons: "cromulent"

"I'd never heard of 'embiggen' before coming to Springfield."

"I don't know why; it's a perfectly cromulent word."

It sounds questionable, but apprently means "acceptable."

Kathleen B. said...

"Pulchritude"!

definitely the winner. I swear I was trying to remember this exact word, but couldn't.

SippicanCottage said...
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ploopusgirl said...

I'd offer the word 'arrogance' as a negative, but beautiful sounding word, but Ann Althouse and all her regular commenters embrace arrogance as if it's their life's goal. So, I'll decline.

Ann Althouse said...

Now don't everybody pile on...

Pastor_Jeff said...

Sippican,
Hmmm, I assume that "prefect" in quotes is a clue, so last guess for today: zenith? heaven?

I love word games and find it fascinating how people who seem similar in intelligence and verbal expression can relate very differently to word games. My wife can beat me at Boggle 9 times out of 10; I am much better at crosswords. She solves the Jumble clues one at a time; I look at the cartoon and guess the answer.

Anyone here familiar with Quiddler?

SippicanCottage said...
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Agatha said...

sippicancottage, I love your c00, intellectual way of saying LOL PLOOPUSGIRL SOUNDS LIKE POOP LOL

Agatha said...
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Pastor_Jeff said...

Sippican,

Yes! I'd almost forgotten Kwyjibo.

Bart: "A big, dumb, balding North American ape. With no chin."
Marge: "And a short temper"

That's when Bart switched IQ tests with Martin and got sent to the genius school. "Good old TV. Is there any problem you can't solve?"

Pancho said...

I've never liked the word, FETUS.

What could be more beautiful than a developing human infant, but when described in this medical terminology the word conjurs up thoughts of the little monsters in the movie "Alien".

Ann Althouse said...

Hmmm.... what would you think if you knew that two of the commenters on this post are actually the same person? Guess how I figured it out.

SippicanCottage said...
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SippicanCottage said...
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Ann Althouse said...

"Pancreatic" sounds like it has to do with being creative about everything.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Sippican,
Thanks for the compliments, but I'm not feeling very smart. Abyss apparently comes from Greek (where we picked up the a- prefix meaning "not" or without"), abyssos, meaning bottomless. I did study Greek in seminary, but I used some help for that one (Online Etymology Dictionary). I still don't get your clue. I'm just slow today.

Back on topic: Not to be crude, but "orgasm" has always sounded harsh and ugly to me.

SippicanCottage said...
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Pastor_Jeff said...

Sippican is pretending to be a normal human while also posting words like "byss"!

I will have to look that one up in my unabridged dictionary.

Kev said...

I've always thought the word "placenta" was gross (anyone else remember the "Placenta Helper" commercial-spoof from early SNL?), but that must have something to do with its meaning, because "placebo" is very similar-sounding but doesn't bother me in the least.

And get this--a commenter over at Dave Barry's Blog says that they knew someone who named their daughter Placenta! (Scroll down to the comment from 8:01 a.m. today.)

Kev said...

Sippican: I'm a jazz musician, so the original definition of the word (which may have come from the Dutch word "jass" and then been vulgarized later) doesn't bother me.

If you do accept the vulgar meaning of the word (which is not universally accepted; go here for one look at its origin), it still makes sense as to how it came to be applied to the music. Jazz is considered to have gotten its start in New Orleans' red-light district known as Storyville. Because of discrimination, black bands were not allowed to play in white clubs, so many of them had to resort to playing in brothels. From there, it's easy to see how the word and music became connected.

Finn Kristiansen said...

Osculate my derriere.

I think osculation sounds painful, but sometimes it's quite nice once you put your lips to the task.

And derriere, in the way it rolls through the mouth as you say it, sounds much better than what it really is.

Of course the phrase osculate my derriere cuts both ways, depending on whether it is your boss or the milf next door employing the phrase, and how literally they mean it.

Oh, and when milf eventually enters the dictionary, it will be one of those unpleasant sounding words with a tasty meaning (sorta, depending on one's testosterone count).

Troy said...

Somebody's gotta say it... "Ejaculation" is a word that sounds much worse than what it really is....

And now that I have digressed....

XWL said...

A rather euphonious word that has mostly a negative connotation could be 'effluvia'

How about a word that is both euphonious and harsh sounding, with both harsh and pleasant connotations.

Row as in fight sounds harsh, but row as in row, row, row your boat has a pleasant sound.

Along the same lines, sow for female pig, not so nice, but sow as in sowing seeds, pretty.

And speaking of musical terms as some have, Funk sounds harsh, but is a terrific musical genre (yet funk as in depression matches the harsh tone of the syllable)

SippicanCottage said...
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SippicanCottage said...
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Mark said...

august

SippicanCottage said...
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Mark said...

Pronunciation is a moving target, both in time and by region (and country). The number of words that apply here may also vary.

Mark said...

Hmm, how would Ted Kennedy (or Mayor Quimby) say "Polish?"

SippicanCottage said...
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J.T. said...

Pretty words that mean ugly things--
Chlamydia-- sounds like someone's favorite aunt.
Lysteria-- sounds like Chlamydia's sister
Scatalogical-- sounds like the study of scattered things...
Necrophilia-- sounds like someone who loves neckware
Flatulence-- OK-- this one sounds pretty much like what it is, but you have to admit, it does roll off the tongue nicely...

niz said...

With the exception of "jazz" -- which just doesn't belong on the "worst" list -- all of these words align sound and meaning.

Arleen said...

For my theres no beautiful word in the world.