Beautiful words

Word maven Patricia T. O’Conner quotes this passage from Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings and asks us simply to savor the language:

At around age six, perhaps, I was standing by myself in our front yard waiting for supper, just at that hour in a late summer day when the sun is already below the horizon and the risen full moon in the visible sky stops being chalky and begins to take on light. There comes the moment, and I saw it then, when the moon goes from flat to round. For the first time it met my eyes as a globe. The word “moon” came into my mouth as though fed to me out of a silver spoon. Held in my mouth the moon became a word. It had the roundness of a Concord grape Grandpa took off his vine and gave me to suck out of its skin and swallow whole, in Ohio.

Mmmm, yes.

The rest of O’Conner’s interview, with Leonard Lopate, here — a great discussion about beautiful words: the beautiful sounds of words, apart from their meaning. Seersucker. Jejune. Waxwing. Chevrolet. Azerbaijan. And Henry James’ favorite phrase, summer afternoon.


Christopher Hitchens’ candidate for the most beautiful English word here.

My own favorite: susurrus, and all its variants. Loved it ever since I encountered it as a child, in Jack Prelutsky’s “The Dance of the Thirteen Skeletons.” Not the place I’d have expected to find an exquisitely lovely word, but serendipity (a lovely word itself) is a beautiful thing.

(Image by Dan Bush)


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