Elegant Sounding Words – Exquisiteness is Not Limited to Dress Sense

Elegant Not Decadent

For a lot of us, elegant sounding words are tied to the beautiful things that the Beautiful Things wear and there are lots of examples of elegant attire in movies and very often that correlates to the word decadence.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love that word (more on it in another post) but think of these movies to get my drift:

  • The Great Gatsby
  • Downton Abbey
  • Gosford Park
  • The Remains of the Day
  • A Room With a View

Buy any of them at Amazon.com


No, I want to move beyond the cinematic boundaries and suggest other words that have elegance contained within them or are suggestive of being elegant.  I have chosen just eight to start with:

Antique – Not as old as Antediluvian (see word list) and much more stylish.  Very often associated with furniture, the decorative arts, books and dowager duchesses – objects which are delicate and usually very expensive.

Charm – When a man today is charming others are wary, often thinking him a sleaze, a flatterer.  What an absolute shame when his signal intent is to delight or arouse admiration but I suppose  the negative connotation has been brought about by the duplicity of man in merely attempting to deceive rather than charm.  This is a word that requires further consideration.  It will be seen in these pages again.

Exquisiteness – The piquancy of a thing that is beautiful or delicate.  The word takes the object of beauty to its finest point of elevated discernment and appreciation

Gentility – Well-born ladies taking tea in the drawing room, occupied with chit-chat and cucumber sandwiches.

Grace – Fluidity of movement, languid and purposeful actions.  Elegance of proportion.  Pleasantness of manner and speech.  The aptly named Grace Kelly.

Noblesse – Of noble birth or standing.  Not necessarily nobility, per se, but of the privileged class or aristocracy

Refinement – Polished behaviour; having a discernment of taste; presenting a cultivated and civilized appearance.

Sauvity – Usually applies to gentlemen of charm (as defined) and sophistication.  Definitely think James Bond’s Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Daniel Craig et al and well tailored suits or  dinner jackets with bow ties.  Yes, I know, we’ve finished on dress but it’s hard not to with these chaps isn’t it?

One sad comment:  It is a poor reflection on our society of mediocrity that being elegant has become confused with being ‘sexy’ or ‘fashionable’.  Oh dear!

Adding the words to the list.

Feel free to post a comment.  I really would love you to do so.



Review of The Adventure of English (dvd) – A Fascinating Journey of Words

Adventure in English

The Adventure of English was a British television series on the history of the English language presented by Melvyn Bragg and which was released in DVD format in June 2009.

This fascinating and must-watch documentary investigates the evolution of the English Language in an adventurous, almost biographical fashion from its arrival in Britain in the 5th century, its voyage across the Atlantic to the Americas, its influence among slaves in the Caribbean and its survival in today’s techno culture.

The DVD is still available at Amazon.com.  The price for the 405 minute, 4 disc series is  just $69.95 here.  And if you would like the companion book by Lord Bragg too, it is still to be had here with FREE DELIVERY WORLDWIDE.

Bragg Book

In the television series, Bragg – a prolific author, screenwriter and broadcaster in Britain – explains the origins and spelling of many words based on the times in which they were introduced into the growing language that would eventually become modern English.  Not in a tedious, studious way but as a fun and fascinating journey tracking the development and growth of words using a very organized and easily understood approach.

For those who regard English as merely a school subject, you really should look at this series as it will amaze you in the way that our words have come into being and the circumstances in which they have.  Much of the production scenes are done on-site around the world, as the history of the language is tracked.

The eight parts of the series takes us on a journey of words through time and location as it explores …

1.   Birth of a Language.

From the Romans quitting England, leaving behind a race of people, the Celts, to their own devices to the invasion of Germanic tribes in around 500AD Bragg examines how Anglo-Saxon, with its many forms and dialects became the basis of our English today.

2.   English Goes Underground.

In this second part, Bragg looks at how Anglo Saxon evolved as the language of England while in time the peoples of the small, separate kingdoms in England became part of the new developing Christian civilization of Europe.   Then came the invasion of the Norman peoples under William the Conqueror which brought further change to how language was used.  Norman French became the language of the court, with Latin, acquired through the Christianization of the church in England, became the language of learning.  The Anglo-Saxon tongue was subsumed to the peasant class.

Then gradually English began to oust French as the language of law and government and a new found confidence in English literature developed, especially through the works of Geoffrey Chaucer.  After Chaucer vowels were pronounced differently and words took on sounds more familiar to us today.

3.   The Battle for the Language of the Bible.

The Black Death in 1348 which killed up to a third of the population, weakened the hold of Latin among the educated and helped what is now known as Middle English to really take a hold.  It was clear that this English was to be the principal language and through the efforts of theologian John Wycliffe a new English Bible was created.

But it was the arrival of the printing press in the 15th Century that the various forms of English were brought to a standard in spelling and pronunciation.

4.   This Earth, This Realm, This England.

Repelling another planned invasion of England this time by the Spanish in 1588 England supremacy on the sea saw its language being taken to foreign lands and the trade that these mariners undertook saw new goods and words come back to England and become absorbed into what was becoming Modern English.

It was from here that the Renaissance blossomed in the land with Elizabethan poetry, prose and especially drama taking centre stage through the mastery of William Shakespeare.

 5.   English in America.

With the aid of a native man, Squanto, the new settlers were able to establish themselves in this New World.   Their background was one of Puritanism, with emphasis on the Bible and God-fearing obeisance.

The New England Primer which reinforced the way that the settlers chose to live and the Blueback Speller which taught strict pronunciation principles, ensured that class distinctions emanating from wealth, speech and manner were eliminated.

Bragg shows how English was given to the American slaves and evolved in the 18th and 19th centuries to become a form of English in its own right.

6.   Speaking Proper.

Science and the Royal Society in 17th century England now takes centre stage.

Academics and scholarly men now wrote their theses in English not Latin in this Age of Enlightenment.

Daily newspapers appeared widely bringing news and increased literacy to a great many people.  Books were produced not just for learning but also for pleasure and perhaps significantly Samuel Johnson produced his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755.  Female readers were making their demands known too and female writers came to the fore with the advent of the novel.

The impact of the Industrial Revolution on language is considered as industry was thrust forward as an institution in its own right.

 7.   The Language of Empire.

British foreign trade takes the language into India and the Caribbean, while convicts take it to Australia. As a result the English language is enriched immeasurably.

 8.   Many Tongues Called English, One World Language.

The final programme sees English establishing itself as the language of 21st Century International Commerce.  It is even seen as the new language of the Internet.

Wherever it has been taken and whatever it has encountered, the English language has adapted and met all of the challenges it has been compelled to face throughout this wonderful Adventure in English.

 Who will find this series of interest?

Some opinions of those who have watched the series:

“Diverse people with even a slight interest in the history of English language and literature will find the series interesting and enjoyable.  It is highly recommended.”

“an excellent series and rewards repeated viewings. Excellent.”

“it gets a bit less interesting when it gets to more recent, more familiar history. But it still is always enlightening and entertaining.”

“Lord Bragg’s knowledge of and enthusiasm for his subject matter infuses each episode with delight. Who knew English could be so interesting? Highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of our language”

Not all opinions were as enthusiastic however:

“The host is not engaging, and the material presented barely scratches the surface. It is inferior to Robert MacNeil’s, The Story of English, which is from the 1980s, but is well done.”

So for those who wish to compare, I’m afraid there aren’t many DVDs around with which to do so, only a few VHS copies.

Other English Language Video productions

The Story of English, Robert MacNeil, 1986.  VHS only.

MacNeil dvd

A Light History of the English Language; Prof. Elliot Engel, December 2009. A light-hearted look at the development of the English language. Run time : 46 minutes. Available here.

Light History

Should you buy Melvyn Bragg’s Adventure of English?

You can see all eight parts of the series on You Tube for free, but personally I would need to possess (and do have) a copy of the series to watch again and again.

So, most definitely buy yourself a copy and enjoy it.


If you have any questions relating to this dvd or would like to leave your own personal comments about the series, please feel free to do so below.




It’s Have, Not Of


One of my pet hates in modern language uses (yes, there are many, sadly) is the incorrect use of the word “of” instead of the possessive or experiential “have“.

When I was a nipper (many moons ago now) I was flogged to within an inch of my life – metaphorically speaking – for writing things such as “he would’ve”, “she should’ve”, “they could’ve”.  “Young man”, I was told, “the words are “he would have“, “she should have“, “they could have“.  “Have”, you understand, not ‘ve”.

For many, the shortened versions have persisted but there are those who now join in the clamour to have the shortened versions untangled again.  ‘Hurrah’ I hear you exclaim!  Regrettably, in splitting the words into two the wrong word “of” has been applied to the sounded “‘ve” so that we now have “he would of”, “she would of”, “they should of”.

Ghastly, uggh!  Horrid. Wrong.

I’ll get down off my soapbox now and get me coat.


The Art of Diction According to Jeeves and Wooster

I am indebted to Percival Devante Esq for the following item found on the now defunct (great word to be looked at later) blog site Swell & Dandy.  It’s such a shame things must come to an end!

Jeeves and Wooster

Set in 1930s England and America, P.G. Wodehouse’s ‘Jeeves’ stories in addition to the television series based on the former are riddled with charming, archaic English terminology and phrases.  If you don’t know the stories, you really are missing out.  Delay no longer and get the books here.

Book Depository

Or, view the series with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry here.

 Amazon dvd (2)

 The Diction of Jeeves and Wooster

The following is a list of essentials with their definitions and explanations.  Feel free to slip them into every-day conversation to keep your friends on their toes.

Agog – (adj) Very eager or curious to hear or see something: “I’m all agog to see the Duchess’ new hat.”

Bally – (adj) bloody, damned [mild explicative]: “Get that bally dog out of the kitchen!”

To be all a twitter – (v) To be anxious or excited about something: “The Mater has been all a twitter ever since Mrs. Nelson told her the news about the Duke of Edinburgh.”

To be dashed – (v) To be confounded; used interchangeably with to be damned: “Well, I’ll be dashed!”

To biff  – (v) To strike or to punch: “If you don’t remove your elbows from the table I shall biff you.”

Blighter – (n) A fellow, especially one held in low esteem: “He’s a silly blighter, isn’t he?”

Blithering – (adj) Senselessly talkative, babbling; used chiefly as an intensive to express annoyance or contempt: “Mister Hooper, you are such a blithering idiot.”

By Jove! – (interj) [used as a mild oath to express surprise or emphasis]

Chap – (n) A man or a boy.

Chin-chin – (interj) [used as a greeting or as a toast when drinking to someones health]

Cross-patch -(n) A bad-tempered or irritable person: “O, don’t be such a cross-patch, Charles.”

Dash – (adv) A mild form of damn: “That was dash cunning of you.”
Dashed – (adj) A mild form of damned, derived from dash: “The dashed thing doesn’t work!”

Dash it all! – (interj) [used to express angry or dismay; interchangeable with damn it]

Drivel – (n) Silly nonsense; “How can you say such drivel?”

Frightful – (adj) [used for emphasis, esp. of something bad]

Frightfully – (adv) Very (used for emphasis): “I’m frightfully sorry.”

To get it in the neck – (v) To be punished or criticised for something: “She really gave it to me in the neck when I arrived late for dinner.”

Humdrum – (adj) Lacking variety or excitement; dull: “I don’t want to go to school, Mummy, maths is so humdrum.”

I say! – (interj) [used to express surprise or disgruntlement; often interchangeable with O my!]

Jolly well – (adv) very much; a phrase used for emphasis or enthusiasm: “I jolly well hope so!”

Look here! – (interj) [used to express disgruntlement or agitation with a person or persons]: “Look here, you swine! What do you think you’re doing?”

Milksop – (n) A weak or ineffectual person; whimp: “Don’t be such a milksop, Spencer, it’s only a kitten.”

Old man – (n) [term of endearment used in informal direct address]

Old thing – (n) [term of endearment used in informal direct address]

Pipped – (adj) To get the better of; defeat.

Positively – (adv) Very (used for emphasis): “How positively lovely!”

Right-o – (interj) [used to express cheerful concurrence, assent, or understanding]

Ripping – (adj) excellent, delightful: “What a positively ripping sweater you’re wearing, Bernard!”

Rot – (n) nonsense [often used interjectionally]: “What rot!”

Rummy – (adj) queer, odd: “That was a rummy sort of thing to say, don’t you suppose?”

To talk through one’s hat – To talk nonsense; especially on a subject that one professes to be knowledgeable about but in fact is ignorant of: “He’s never really met Lady Astor, he’s just talking through his hat.”

That’s not cricket – (interj) [used to express dismay at an instance of unfair or ungentlemanly conduct or proceedings]: “Mater, Helen has taken the whole sugar dish and refuses to share. It just isn’t cricket!”

Tight as an owl – (adj) drunk

Toodle-pip – (interj) good-bye, so long

What ho! – (interj) [exclamatory greeting, like saying what’s up]

What? – (interj) [used as a tag question, often to solicit agreement]: “Evelyn Waugh must be the greatest author of the century, what?”

What’s-it – (n) a gadget or other thing for which the speaker does not know or has forgotten the name

With knobs on – (adv/adj) Extremely; in a similar way, but taken to an extreme: “The same to you with knobs on!”

Not added to the Word List.


Words That Make You Happy …

… for no other reason than the sheer pleasure they give you when you hear them or the happy associations they create for you. There are probably lots of words that make you happy as there are for me.  A smile always comes across my face when I read/hear the following (just a small number that spring to immediate mind):

Asinine – Always have believed this should really be spelled Ass -inine but there again that’s rather silly or stupid probably.

Bifurcate – No, it’s not (as I once thought and still wish it to be) to burp but only to divide into two branches – to fork.  A real opportunity missed there I think.

Inglenook – Warm and cosy place to be in the fireside of a sixteenth century coaching inn on a cold wintry night,


Lollipop – Say it out loud and you can just taste that sticked sugary confection.  The tongue picks up the ‘loll’ and your lips the ‘pop’.  Yummy!


Obsequious – Charles Dickens must have made the character Uriah Heep in David Copperfield with this word very much to the forefront of his mind.  This sickeningly respectful creep just oozes smarm; can’t you just feel his limp fish-like handshake.  Ugh!  Yet fawningly brilliant.  So, this word always makes me think of the character and makes me happy.


Smoodge – There can never be enough ooooooo’s in smoodge.  It’s what my cats do when they’re being friendly.  Supposedly an Australian and New Zealand word that means behaving amorously; sidling up to one.  More fittingly inherited by all mogs of the world.

Waistcoat – There is a quote from HC Wyld, professor of English, Oxford University about 1923 in the book “CS Lewis – A Biography”  by AN Wilson, 1990 which I love and which always makes me much amused: “You’re the sort of people who would say ‘waist-coat’, rather than use the old-fashioned, gentlemanly pronunciation ‘westcut”.  Westcut it is for me!  And most definitely not vest.



Words That Sound Beautiful – Beauty is in the Ear of the Beholder

As has already been mentioned in an earlier post, the purpose of this website is to provide the reader with words which have the sense of being beautiful, either through their construction or the images they bring to our minds.

Now, what is beautiful to one is not necessarily beautiful to another and I am not looking to brook any argument but simply to promote what I recognise as words that sound beautiful to me and hopefully you, too.

The actual meaning doesn’t always have to be known to appreciated the way the word sounds and for a long time I had absolutely no idea what Antediluvian meant only that it sounded beautiful.  The softness of the consonants undoubtedly make it so.

I have learned that the word actually means “concerning or referring to the period before the flood” (OED) – i.e. belonging to a time before even Noah was a lad – and this has only helped increase the loveliness of its sound.

Building_of_the_ark_(Bedford_Master)_2 (The Building of the Ark (Bedford Masters))

The fact that it is often used in a disparaging way to suggest someone belonging to a world long-past and antiquated made it resonate with me even further as I surely fit that bill admirably.

Antediluvian is added to the Word list.


Words That Sound Like Sounds: Onomatopoeia Sizzles!

Great word Onomatopoeia, isn’t it?

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines the word as “the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named (e.g. cuckoo, sizzle)”.  Put another way, words that sound like sounds.  I have always been deeply moved by Wilfred Owen’s line in the First World War poem Anthem for Doomed Youth:  “the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle“.

This website is dedicated to the beauty and meaning of words.  The former is of course in the eye of the beholder while meaning is supposedly to be determined by the reader or listener and not the writer.  I am more concerned with the effect of words, what they conjure up in our imaginations rather than their literal meanings.

There is no way that the subject matter of Anthem for Doomed Youth is beautiful, but there is beauty in how “stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle” sounds.  The alliteration and onomatopoeic effect which it creates gives us that pleasure.

And there are lots more words that sound like sounds – sizzle, tweet, whizz, zoom for example and lots more – but I am more interested in the music and elegance that words project and the images they convey to you, the listener-reader.

I think of how Schweppes have used their name onomatopoeically to conjure up the sound of a tonic water bottle cap being twisted to release that “ssshhh” sound, but more intriguingly for me is the word that is associated with that ssshhh:  effervescence.  That’s a word where you can hear that fizz and see the bubbles.  Even more so in the pouring of Champagne.


So cheers and we’ll add effervescence to our Word List.


Writers, Students, Lovers of Cool Words

Be Sensible

Feelings generated within us enable the meaning of words to make sense in the context of our own selves.  Not the word’s definition or etymology but the effect it has on us.  This may well have begun in childhood and will therefore rely on our subconscious remembrance of what  word meanings evoke in our imaginations – the sensations they create in us.

Is the word one which makes us happy, sad, reflective, thoughtful?  Does it have an impact on our senses – Sight, Sound, Touch, Vision, Smell?

Smell?  How can a word smell, you may ask?  Easy.  What comes to mind with the word Sulphur, for instance?  Can’t you just smell that burnt match, that rotten egg aroma?  Even the spent match“fuh” sound in the word conjures up something unpleasant on the nose!

Well, it does for me and I am certain it will have an effect for you – whether it is the same as mine depends upon how you derive a meaning of the word and if it is a different meaning fine, neither of us is wrong, we just have differing connections with the word.

I guess in one way we are considering the poetics of words but that is limiting the scope of how we find meaning in words somewhat.  Poetics deals with the sound of words and that is great, but what about the visual element of a word?

In a word like building  you can see the high-rise apartments and homes or offices intermingled here in the artistic structure of the letters of the word.tall buildings





One of my favourite words comes from my schooldays when my English teacher asked the class to consider the word Handkerchief.  It conjures up lace cuffs and an eighteenth century coat or demure ladies in crinolines trying to overcome the effects of the ’vapours’.  It is an evocative word.18th C Gentleman

It is a peculiarity of language that we must use words to describe words, synonyms, but hopefully you will now recognise that there are other ways of taking meaning from words and you will join me in this wonderfully sensuous journey as we consider the Beauty and Meaning of English Words.

English Words

In speaking of English words, I am referring to words which are now accepted as words used in the communication of the English tongue.  Origins of many words will be Latin, French, German, Anglo-Saxon, Indian and so on;  it is this wonderful intermingling of different languages that make English such a varied and often bemusing one.   That however is not of concern in defining what an English word is in the context of this website.  Let others argue whether a word belongs in the English dictionary or not because it is from Arabic descent and not of Teutonic root.  We have other fish to fry.

That colloquialism reminds me to say that occasionally the word under consideration may in fact be two or three word combinations, such as Cui Bono.  Yes, I know, it’s Latin but it is now part of the English language, so who gains by this?  We do!