ROY carries on without me linking to The 100 Most Beautiful Words in English. The comments are well worth your time.
It got me thinking about Beauty, perhaps as a way not to think about the plethora of Year End Lists, the palimpsests of Feature pages and Entertainment sections of our vestigial daily papers. It reminded me that the old Book of Lists had Somebody or Other's list of Most Beautiful Words in English, and ever' last one of 'em was something stereotypically (or quintessentially) beautiful itself: rainbow, say, or duckling, or some such shit. (Okay, I scrabbled up our copy. The list is Wilfred J. Funk's):
Murmur is lovely, and luminous, but the rest of the list is more likely to induce a diabetic coma. And I'd forgotten it was paired with a list of Worst-Sounding English Words, from a 1946 poll of the National Association of Teachers of Speech, which suffers from the reverse:
And I like flatulent and plump, but if you're going to quote me please do so in context.
What makes a word beautiful? I'm the only semi-musical member of my extended family--you're onto second cousins before you can find someone else who can sing on key--so maybe it's my lack of ear training, but I've gotta go with function over form on this one. I spent an entire afternoon in shear * bliss when I first ran into "oleaginous" (that it was used to describe Confederate Attorney General Judah P. Benjamin was just a lagniappe.) I've been trying without success for the last twenty years to free ruderal from the bonds of Botany. Some of you might've noticed that I think incontinent is the most indispensable word in English (or, at least, in the political lexicon). Is pinguid less lissome than languid?
I like (I said at Roy's) marl as a verb, and purl as an adjective. I don't know where I picked up maze; I thought I was just shortening amazed until I looked and found it was Obsolete. I like anything obsolete. I have no idea why you'd stick with truncation while trucature remains, hanging by the slimmest of threads. I like all words which condemn women whose sexuality trespassed on the divine right of males: strumpet, slattern, trollop (and the related trull!) and especially, for some reason, demirep. Similarly, catamite just provokes almost unquenchable mirth. I'll pass on dame, generally, and broad everywhere, but skirt I like, and an unknown actress on Turner Classics will get me to ask my Poor Wife "Who's the twist?" I like spoor, too; it's like a literary version of "snail trail".
Women should have tresses, of raven or russet, and more should be found in russet, or buckram, or gingham, but not bucolically.
I like gormless, feckless, and aperçu, but I can never quite remember what they mean. Rebarbative and incondite I should use more often. I can never figure out how to fit plerophory in, which causes me to overuse apodictic.
Numbles are the entrails of a deer, and fewmet its excrement. Freshlets are the edible entrails of an animal, which must be consumed soon after butchering. They were once known in the trade as Variety Meats, which is probably the worst euphemism of all time not coined by a Reagan administration official.
Corbels, dentils, and soffits. Just so my Poor Wife can laugh at my complete architectural illiteracy. Insouciant. Laodicean. Replevin. I'm fond of galloping and congenital in the medical sense, as in, "Boy, his galloping Andy Rooneyitis is totally flaring today."
* UPDATE: shear not corrected, per Brandon in comments, on the grounds that it should be preserved for all times. Plus, you know, intentional mistakes in Persian rugs an' stuff. Not that God's keeping Her Eye on this blog for signs of excessive pride.