Posts Tagged ‘Edgar Allen Poe’

What are the most beautiful words in the English language?

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Obviously, I am an ailurophile

This one is too much fun to resist.

The Deshoda blog is asking for the 100 most beautiful words in the English language.

They’ve got some good ideas – it’s hard to beat tintinnabulation, for example, as Edgar Allen Poe knew when writing of

… the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells –
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

Or sempiternal, or serendipity, or, for an ethnic note, how about Susquehanna? Am I just enamored of those scintillating sibilants? Perhaps.  Quintessential, then.

Onomatopoeia is too obvious, I think. So is mellifluous … which, really, is an example of onomatopoeia, isn’t it?

All the French words they’ve picked, like denouement. As Camila commented, are words like ratatouille really English words?

And here’s one I didn’t even know:  Petrichor – the smell of earth after rain.  How not to fall in love with that one?  Reader Ranjini commented it “has got me waiting for the day the rains come.”

Galleycat joined the fun, and made a simple nomination for the list: lovely.  This isn’t just one of your holiday games, admonishes Galleycat editor Jason Boog, “it is one of the most important questions an aspiring author can ask. All writers should love language and keep a long mental list of favorite words to use at important moments in your writing.” As if to underscore the point, the Galleycat editor also shows us to a site for a visual thesaurus.


Which brings to mind Nadia’s recommendation, Robert Herrick‘s liquefaction:

Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free ;
O how that glittering taketh me !

As a child, ripple was one of my favorites – and it made Deshoda‘s cut.  But my sister’s favorite didn’t:  voluptuous.  Well, you have to know my sister.

My daughter told me that, since girlhood, her favorite word was triumphant, because it reminded her of elephants.

But now that I’m older and wiser, I know I know the very best word of all: 


Make your own nominations below. Or on my Facebook page. They’ll wind up here anyway.

While I pondered weak and weary…

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Unexpected connections

As a guest of Columbia University, I have been installed in the Milburn Hotel on W. 76th Street.  I arrived on Sunday night at about 11 a.m., after the book launch for An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czeslaw Milosz at Brooklyn Central Library.  I had not eaten anything except some hors d’oeuvres  at a Polish literary party (with a bilingual reading by Polish poet Tomasz Różycki, and a Ukrainian poet whose name I did not catch) in a Westchester County, but plenty of cognac and wine had been poured into me — or, more honestly, I had gladly poured into myself after a long day.

So I didn’t have much of a sense of where I had landed when my friend, the NYU mathemetician Lindsey Van Wagenen, arrived to take me for coffee the next morning.  Lindsey, sensitive to the need for a charming and picturesque setting for her visitor, discarded the usual Starbucks.  We eventually wandered up to 84th Avenue and sat down at Edgar’s Café — I hadn’t thought about the name and chose a corner table beneath a big portrait of Edgar Allen Poe.


The penny fell when big marble placque notified me that this quaint and intimate café occupied the former site of the Brennen Mansion, located on the street between West End Avenue and Broadway known as Edgar Allen Poe Street.  Heavens, I hadn’t really associated America’s famous writer with New York City at all.

The plaque, put up by the New York Shakespeare Society in 1922, informed us that Poe resided right where we were standing, between March 1844 and August 1845.

Important dates for the artist:  He composed “The Raven” here.

They make a pretty good goat cheese omelette, too, and a dynamite cappuccino.