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Off topic: The most beautiful phrase in the English language?
Thread poster: xxxIanW
Local time: 23:36
German to English
+ ...
Dec 6, 2003

"This famous linguist once said that of all the phrases in the English language, of all the endless combinations of words in all of history, that 'cellar door' is the most beautiful."

This is from the excellent - and truly mind-boggling - film "Donnie Darko", but is actually true.

Having looked on the Internet, I see that has been attributed to Edgar Allan Poe, JRR Tolkien and others besides. However, what really interests me is what it actually means - is it a mere glorification of alcohol or is there some other point that I am missing, linguistic or otherwise.

If anyone can throw some light on this, or has any interesting theories, I'd be most grateful.



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Sylvain Leray  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:36
German to French
A French explanation... Dec 6, 2003

Hi Ian,

I think you do understand French, don't you?
Here's an explanation in French (look for "cellar door" in the page). It seems that it is from Tolkien indeed, and from a merely linguistic point of view.

Have a nice week-end,

[Edited at 2003-12-06 11:17]

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Local time: 23:36
German to English
+ ...
Savouring languages Dec 6, 2003

Thanks Sylvain,

Here's a quick translation of the relevant parts.

"One thing was important for Tolkien – that languages should be beautiful, with a pleasant tone. Tolkien savoured languages and his taste buds were finely tuned. Latin, Spanish and Gothic were pleasant. Italian was marvellous. But French, often lauded as a beautiful language, gave him limited pleasure.

But true paradise came in the form of “Welsh”. In his essay “English and Welsh”, Tolkien recalls seeing “Adeiladwyd 1887” ("built in 1887") engraved on a tombstone. It was a revelation of beauty which “pierced my linguistic heart”, he recalls. He discovered that Welsh was full of marvellous words such as these, but Tolkien had trouble communicating to others exactly what was so wonderful about them. He then makes an honest attempt at doing so: “Most English speakers will admit that the expression “cellar door” is “beautiful”, particularly when set apart from its meaning (and spelling). More beautiful than, for instance, “sky” and far more beautiful than the word “beautiful” itself."

I've also heard that God speaks every language except Welsh, and now I'm wondering if there's any connection between this and the above ...

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Erich Schildhauer
Local time: 23:36
German to English
+ ...
More beautiful words... Apr 30, 2008

...that might help clarify Tolkein's point: "conceit", "self-esteem", "opinionatedness".

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Sultan Khanfar
United Arab Emirates
Local time: 01:36
Arabic to English
+ ...
? Jun 17, 2008

xxxIanW wrote:
I've also heard that God speaks every language except Welsh

Where did you get that from?

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