Most Beautiful Words

A reposting of a list of 100 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language has me wondering what my own favorites would be.

For example, bucolic doesn’t make my list. Its meaning, in a lovely rural setting, certainly qualifies, and that definition chimes beautifully in the ear, but bucolic’s cacophonous sound suggests it would mean sick cow.

Nor do I care for long latinate words when a more accessible word will do. I prefer cat lover to ailurophile.

I  concur on onomatopeia and panacea, but my favorite word has to be lullaby.

Remember when Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street sang the L song? Bert had “light bulb and lamp post,” while Ernie advocated the “lilting and lovely ones” like “laughter, lullaby, lollypop.” So Bert the boring came up with “linoleum!” The humor came in juxtaposing a melodic word with its pedestrian meaning.

For me, the most beautiful word captures the precise meaning you’re looking for, its phonetic symbolism matches its meaning, and its cadence fits the prosody of your passage. Good thing we can rummage around in this language with the largest vocabulary available; with a half million words to choose from, sometimes we can have it all.

What would you nominate as a most beautiful word?

Rhyme Time

Children’s book editors conventionally whine about rhyme. It’s so hard to write tight in rhythm and rhyme, they’d rather not brave it. Then they have children of their own, and discover how much fun great rhyming can be. And any elementary school teacher could tell you how important rhyme is for reading readiness.

Editor Allyn Johnston said, “My feelings about rhyming picture books really did change after our son was born. I used to be a complete pill about how much I disliked them, and then my husband and I spent endless hours reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Dr. Seuss books and The Seven Silly Eaters and Time for Bed and Hattie and the Fox (and other young Mem Fox books), and I saw how much fun it was to laugh and cuddle and repeat goofy stanzas with Eamon–and I became a convert. We still have rhymes we say to each other in silly moments from those early years. So now I feel that when rhyme is great, there’s nothing like it to engage very young children with books. (Mem’s adult book Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children will Change Their Lives Forever includes lots of great info on this topic.)” (More with Barb Odanaka’s SkateboardMom.com interview.)

So there are times to rhyme. The summer between high school and college, I hadn’t received an acceptance from my university’s honor’s program so I could register for classes. To nag politely and humorously, I inquired about it in several stanzas of verse. And as soon as I mailed it, I about died. What a stupid freshman thing to do. Now they’d change their minds and reject me for sure.

The reply must have been sent by return mail. It was an apology, acceptance, and welcome, all in verse, saying that even if I hadn’t already deserved a place in the program, my verse would have won the appeal. Better yet, when I arrived on campus, I was interviewed by the author of that reply, the president of the honors students and a handsome, single, senior guy majoring in economics. If I hadn’t felt so young by comparison, I’d have had a crush.

I do side with the editors who cringe when the rhythm or rhyme is forced and overthrows all sense. It’s usually a hard-won skill to do it well, but anyone can play with it. So try rhyme sometime. There are plenty of rhyming dictionaries to aid and abet you, but I love Mathew Healy’s simple and elegant rhyme sublime tool at WriteRhymes.com:

WriteRhymes screenshot

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Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

In Case of Rejection

As poet Wesley McNair braved rejections, his mentor Donald Hall comforted him with these observations:

“These feelings simply do not end! Believe me I am sympathetic with your feelings, but let me tell you that when you have published a book–which you will–nothing will happen: or at least it will seem that nothing has happened. And this would be true whether it were published by New Rivers or Atheneum. Even if something happens, then you realize  that the “something” is truly nothing. And after you have published eight books of poems, you are still convinced that no one has read you, and that probably you are no good anyway. Or at least you are convinced of that frequently. I have been going through quite a bad patch, in my feelings about my own ability, my past work, and certainly my present work.

“There is only one place, or one moment, in which one finds happiness, and it is always momentary–because that is the moment of the actual writing, and of course that is not always true.

“So I do two things: I assure you that you will publish; and I tell you that it will not make any difference! But I do have a third thing to say: it makes a difference to me!”

 

Don Hall to Wesley McNair: typewritten text as quoted above
Poet Don Hall to (not yet published) Poet Wesley McNair

If we hang all our hopes on any dream as the condition for our happiness, naturally, we’ll be disappointed. But it is possible to take joy in the process, the learning, the growth, these moments of creation.

I loved this line: “It makes a difference to me!” What a gift–when any of us has someone, at least one person, for whom it makes a difference.

Here’s Wesley McNair speaking about the poets’ correspondence on the United States Artists site, where you can fund artistic projects you’re excited about, or request funding for one of your own!

Friday Flick: “If I Should Have a Daughter”

Between sharing two of her own polished pieces, poet Sarah Kay shares her own creative emergence and that of her students. She suggests listing ten things you know to be true. Try it. See what you could write that only you could write.

Sarah’s also a great example of reaching out for mentoring and passing that on.

Sarah Kay at TED
Sarah Kay at TED

“There Will Be Rest”

Arizona State University's Schola Cantorum singing "There Will Be Rest" by Ticheli
"There Will Be Rest," Frank Ticheli's setting of the poem by Sara Teasdale

Something extra today! Here’s a  recording from the concert I mentioned March 7.

Yes, it’s a recording, not the live music experience I advocated in that previous post, but it’s still sweet!

Related Post:

The Poetry of Music

Dialogue Skills

Can you write believable and interesting dialogue? It’s a skill we all need. In fiction, it’s a given. Drama, more so; poetry, maybe. And nonfiction? You’d be surprised. The most academic writing requires us to introduce other researchers and quote them intelligently.

Kathy Temean (who also deserves thanks for leading an SCBWI chapter) shared this great set of Dialogue Tips.

You know you’re an amateur if your characters walk on and say, “Hi, Bob. I haven’t seen you since your sister married my uncle before they died returning from their honeymoon in that shipwreck off the Faroe Islands.” If so, please begin with Kathy’s Tip 1: “Good dialogue is not weighed down by exposition.” (Hey, that one also ignores my “Question the Preposition” advice.) Master all seven of Kathy’s tips and we’ll want to listen to your characters–or your fruit fly geneticists–the whole book long.

Letting Your Goal Carry You

There is such joy in keeping a personal commitment. I keep blogging, logging in these little laps around the language. I keep breathing. At the end of our 21 Day Meditation Challenge, the Chopra Center’s davidi asked, “Who could have believed that this would be so effortless, fun, entertaining, engaging and powerful?” It does add up beautifully, when we engage one day at a time, plus another, and another. When the goal is simple enough and the support strong enough, the wave carries us along.

And davidji added, “As far as I know, there are eight billion people who opted not to join us over these three weeks, so you are the bold ones! You are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

How’s your own resolution coming? Time to recommit? Revise? Or celebrate? Is your goal simple enough to be achievable, discrete enough to be parceled into your daily routines? One page a day is a long manuscript a year. One line a day is a poetry career. One kindness a day, a stronger relationship. One book read a day, your expertise.

The year is still young. What do you want to do with it day by day?