Cellar door … Nevermore

Cellar door in Romania (Andrei Stroe)

The most beautiful-sounding word in the English language is “cellar door,” according to a recent dictionary.com survey. Do you agree?

Our communication colleagues at MyRagan certainly don’t. They point out that “cellar door” is a phrase, not a word, and therefore doesn’t qualify.

Here, then, are some of their offerings:

Aroma. Bungelow. Serenity. Debacle (the meaning isn’t so lovely, but the sound is). Friday afternoon (okay, a little joke there).

“Cellar door” is often used as an example of a word combination that is beautiful in terms of phonaesthetics (sound) with no regard for semantics (meaning). In fact, The New York Times devoted its “On Language” column to “cellar door” earlier this year. The column cites a 1903 novel as praising the beauty of the phrase, and later writers such as Tolkien and Mencken wrote about “cellar door.”

The most fascinating speculation is that Edgar Allan Poe’s refrain “Nevermore” in The Raven was chosen as the closest sound to “cellar door” he could think of. This derives from a 1914 essay by Alma Blount:

Poe, who studied sound effects carefully, says that he chose “Nevermore” as the refrain for The Raven largely because the word contains the most sonorous vowel, o, and the most “producible” consonant, r. An amusing story is told of an Italian lady who knew not a word of English, but who, when she heard the word cellar-door, was convinced that English must be a most musical language.
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One Comment on “Cellar door … Nevermore”

  1. Undine Says:

    Whether Poe knew about the “cellar-door” connection or not, it does show he was on to something, doesn’t it?


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