Food & Culture

According to a Survey of 40,000 People, the Most Beautiful Word in English Is "Mother"

English isn't one of the romance languages, but that doesn't mean we don't have lovely words. There's some beauty in this ol' West Germanic language yet! In 2004, the British Council set out to highlight that fact with 70 of the most beautiful English words. The entire list is below, but here's a quick taste of our favorites: gazebo, smithereens, coconut, and hippopotamus. This is gonna be fun.

Gorgeous Hiccup Zing Explosion!

To mark its 70th anniversary, the British Council commissioned a survey to identify the 70 most beautiful words in the English language. (Considering the group promotes the learning of English around the world and teaches the language to more than half a million people each year, this undertaking was definitely on brand.) The survey was given to more than 40,000 people in 102 non-English speaking countries (though many understood the language) to see which words would rise to the top.

Which facet of beauty this survey operated around, however, is unclear. The survey takers may have chosen words that sounded nice, words that have positive meaning, or some combination of the two. We'll never really know, but the final word list is a fantastic, sophisticated hodgepodge of a loquacious rainbow paradox extravaganza that you'll cherish like a bubble pumpkin lollipop ... banana. No, that sentence didn't make sense — but, according to the survey results, it was pretty darn beautiful.

Beauty Is in the Ear of the Beholder

Before we get to the British Council's list, consider what it might look like had these words only been chosen specifically for their sound. A survey guided by phonaesthetics, the study of the aesthetic properties of speech sound, would probably look at least a little different. J.R.R. Tolkien, author of "Lord of the Rings," is famously credited with being one of the first to hold up "cellar door" as one of the most beautiful sounding phrases in English. It's not the most glamorous reference (A door? To a smelly old cellar?), but that has nothing to do with sonic beauty — especially when it's in a British accent. "I was astonished when someone first showed that by writing 'cellar door' as Selladore, one produces an enchanting proper name," C. S. Lewis wrote in 1963.

Survey Says...

Without further ado, these are the 70 words identified by the British Council-commissioned survey. Which is your favorite?

1. Mother

2. Passion

3. Smile

4. Love

5. Eternity

6. Fantastic

7. Destiny

8. Freedom

9. Liberty

10. Tranquillity

11. Peace

12. Blossom

13. Sunshine

14. Sweetheart

15. Gorgeous

16. Cherish

17. Enthusiasm

18. Hope

19. Grace

20. Rainbow

21. Blue

22. Sunflower

23. Twinkle

24. Serendipity

25. Bliss

26. Lullaby

27. Sophisticated

28. Renaissance

29. Cute

30. Cosy

31. Butterfly

32. Galaxy

33. Hilarious

34. Moment

35. Extravaganza

36. Aqua

37. Sentiment

38. Cosmopolitan

39. Bubble

40. Pumpkin

41. Banana

42. Lollipop

43. If

44. Bumblebee

45. Giggle

46. Paradox

47. Delicacy

48. Peekaboo

49. Umbrella

50. Kangaroo

51. Flabbergasted

52. Hippopotamus

53. Gothic

54. Coconut

55. Smashing

56. Whoops

57. Tickle

58. Loquacious

59. Flip-flop

60. Smithereens

61. Oi

62. Gazebo

63. Hiccup

64. Hodgepodge

65. Shipshape

66. Explosion

67. Fuselage

68. Zing

69. Gum

70. Hen night

Greg Selby, the British Council spokesman, said: "It's interesting that mother, the only word of the 70 that describes a direct relationship between people, came top of the poll. It is great to see words in the survey that are so positive and suggestive of the British Council's purpose — words such as freedom, liberty, peace, renaissance, and destiny. These chime with our aim to help millions of people worldwide access opportunity through English, and promote stronger ties and improved perceptions of the UK."

14 Words the English Language Needs

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. The word shemomedjamo comes from the country of Georgia, and describes being very full from eating but continuing to eat because you're enjoying it so much. 02:35

  2. Pelinti is a word from Ghana that means moving hot food around in your mouth. 03:43

  3. The word zeg comes from the country of Georgia and means the day after tomorrow. 05:28

Written by Joanie Faletto December 7, 2017