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This article, from the Sydney Morning Herald, was sent in Anu's weekly AWADmail this week:

~~~
Mums take heart. The most beautiful word in English is mother. But father doesn't even make the top 70.

To celebrate its 70th anniversary, the British Council compiled a list of the 70 most beautiful words in a survey of more than 42,000 people from 102 non-English speaking countries. About 7000 English students in the council's schools were quizzed directly; the rest responded to an on-line poll.

Filling out the top 10 were, in order: passion, smile, love, eternity, fantastic, destiny, freedom, liberty and tranquillity. Down the list were peace at 11, serendipity (24), pumpkin (40), lollipop (42), bumblebee (44), peekaboo (48), kangaroo (50), whoops (56), oi (61), hodgepodge (64), fuselage (67) and
hen-night (70).

Only one of the words, cherish (16), was a verb that could not be used as a noun. Mother was the only word that described a relationship between people.

Professor Anna Wierzbicka, of the School of Modern Languages at the Australian National University, suggests that people voted for the top five not so much because they like the words themselves, but because they value the concepts they represent. They would probably have voted for the equivalent words in any language. "For example, when they say passion, they are not really thinking about the English language, they are thinking about things they value in life."

But she says some of the words express concepts that are specific to English, and do not necessarily have exact equivalents in other languages. "For example liberty or freedom. Perhaps even destiny. There are many languages, like Australian Aboriginal languages or Japanese, which wouldn't have words like liberty or freedom."

When we get to hippopotamus (52) or flip-flop (59), however, people seem to be deciding more on the basis of sound than meaning. "But something like hen-night they like not because of its sound, but because they think it's an amusing idea, and they like the amusing idea. And possibly the way this idea is expressed. It's a kind of jocular expression."

Carmella Hollo, a linguistics lecturer at the University of NSW, says a similar survey was conducted of native speakers in 1980 by The Sunday Times, and the top words were melody, velvet, gossamer, crystal, and autumn.

She says people are generally thought to favour words with m, l, r and n sounds, and to dislike f sounds. This may partly explain why mother tops the list, yet father doesn't rate a mention.

~~~

I dunno about y'all, but native speaker or not, I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a single "most beautiful" word, whether we mean to sound of the word itself or the concept it symbolizes.

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/11/25/1101219683777.html?oneclick=true

The primary source: http://www.britishcouncil.org/


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"There are many languages, like Australian Aboriginal languages or Japanese, which wouldn't have words like liberty or freedom."

Or Swahili or German. The concept transcends the term. The term is universal and the term is Love - unequivocal and indiscriminate - Love.

How could it be otherwise?


#135587 11/27/04 11:46 PM
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I'd say that the phrase "the most beautiful word in the English language" is meaningless and worse yet without referent. It's as elusive as the apocryphal "funniest joke in the world". Poppycock, piffle, and bushwa.

http://www.jumpstation.ca/recroom/comedy/python/joke.html



#135588 11/28/04 12:09 AM
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Fish don't have a word for water.


#135589 11/28/04 12:17 AM
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Bird don't gotta fry.


#135590 11/28/04 01:55 PM
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I'd say that the phrase "the most beautiful word in the English language" is meaningless and worse yet without referent.

I'd say that contemplation of "the most beautiful word in the English language" is perhaps the most meaningful thing we could do to introduce the language to a student of english, jheem, and the fact that it doesn't have a "referent" is a liberating virtue of the exercise, not a criticism, and certainly not a restraint.

What is more, I think John Keats, one of the pre-eminent poets of our language, would agree.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty -- that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

What comes first, jheem, the awareness of beauty, or its analysis?

For those to whom analysis comes first, it is because, I suspect, they have no 'awareness' of their subject.




#135591 11/28/04 02:17 PM
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contemplation of "the most beautiful word in the English language" is perhaps the most meaningful thing we could do to introduce the language to a student of english

Sorry, but I have to disagree. The contemplation of the most meaningless sentence in the English language is more meaningless than the sentence itself. This is not a criticism of you or meaninglessness. This does not mean that the assignment of such a contemplation ought not to occur in the school setting. In my estimation, school is more meaningless than the contemplation of the most meaningless sentence in the English language.

What is more, I think John Keats, one of the pre-eminent poets of our language, would agree.

Mister Keats, he dead.

What comes first, the awareness of beauty, or its analysis?

Meaning comes before beauty.
Language comes before analysis.
Thought comes before posting.


#135592 11/28/04 02:33 PM
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Meaning comes before beauty.

If I "savor" a wine, jheem, do I savor its sensations, or its chemistry?

Yes, Keats is dead, jheem.

And so is Shakespeare, and Lincoln, and Gandhi.





#135593 11/28/04 02:34 PM
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Now jheem, there you go again getting all bothered and such just because of a simple little question. Of course a single word or concept can be compared to other words and concepts. Remember, the most dynamic agent of human progression known to mankind is Christianity.
And the essence of Christianity is just one word - unqualified love. (uh, make that two words).


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there you go again getting all bothered and such just because of a simple little question.

Sorry, themilum, but I'm not particularly bothered by you, plutarch, or any questions thereto. He asked a question, and I answered it to the best of my abilities. If you don't like my answer, I'm sorry.

Remember, the most dynamic agent of human progression known to mankind is Christianity. And the essence of Christianity is just one word - unqualified love.

You win; you are mas macho; your non-sequitur is longer than mine.


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