6 October 2007

The Prettiest Words In The English Language

Last summer I was talking to some of my friends about the prettiest words in the English language, and also about the ugliest. We more or less agreed on the disagreeable ones: lobby, lunch, coagulate, smooth, furry, carbuncle… But, due to the particular richness and beauty of English, many lovely words were produced. I have made a selection of the five I like most, explaining what they mean and also where they come from, because the origins are often even nicer than the words themselves:

Shimmer. Both a verb and a noun related to a soft, pale, tremulous light, as in “a shimmer of moonlight over the sea”. The noun appears to date from the early 19th century, and it comes from the late Old English scymrian, of Germanic origin.

Thyme. Aromatic plant of the mint family; its scientific name is Thymus vulgaris. Its origins are in the Old French thym, via Latin from Greek thumon from thuein “burn, sacrifice”. That’s what the dictionary says, although I’m not sure why. There is a very sad song in the Irish tradition which refers to thyme as a symbol of innocence, purity and hope.

Tryst. This word isn’t used much anymore, sadly, because it’s a real treat. It is used for a romantic encounter between lovers. Nevertheless, its origins are far more prosaic: it is a late Middle English variant of the obsolete trist, “an appointed place in hunting”, from French triste or Mediæval Latin trista.

Twilight. This one must doubtlessly be my favourite. Twilight is the soft glowing light from the sky just after the sun has sunk behind the horizon, and also the period of the evening during which it occurs. Like many other words, it has a close relationship with the German Zwielicht –also lovely–, and is a Middle English compound word of Old English twi, “two”, and light. It is used, too, as a literary verb.

Within. A preposition meaning “inside” something, especially a range of space, possible action, time… For instance: “within reach” or “within two year’s time”. It comes from the beautiful late Old English withinnan, “on the inside”.

It seems I like y’s and t’s… Five very different words, each with their own meanings and connotations, but they all have in common that they belong to the English language and are absolutely charming. It just comes to show what a chaotic mix English is – but a very nice chaotic mix at that.


Anonymous said...

No sabia que en ingles habia palabras bonitas... jajaj. Bueno, a mi me gusta "shining" por como suena, jeje.
Un beso y espero que te vaya muy bien con el vat y todo el royo.
XD Muakkk

Wordlover said...

LSEP, this was an entry after my own heart! I agree with all the ones you like, especially twlight and tryst, but cannot believe you think carbuncle is an ugly word...as a word. It might be that its definition (a painful local purulent inflammation of the skin and deeper tissues with multiple openings for the discharge of pus and usually necrosis and sloughing of dead tissue) is what you dislike. But the word itself rolls off the tip of your tongue and bounces off your teeth in a crackling splendor of carbuncleness. Nice post. : )

LSEP said...

Oh I didn't know about that meaning. When I first read this word, it referred to a precious or semi-precious stone, a shiny gem... (According to Gem, what my eyes are supposed to shine like... An example is as good as a definition! :P) So you can see I haven't thought about meanings at all, also because "within", for instance, doesn't mean anything special either.

I'm glad you liked this entry. Hopefully it will come out on the school magazine this term. And since it's in English nobody'll read it, you'll see. But still, I did what I was told.

LSEP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LSEP said...

Who are you, Word/Sealover, anyway? I can guess, but I'll have to make sure. :)


"AWSOME" sounds perfect to me.
My God is an Awsome God!