Perplexitaal 5

Sonorous mellifluous words

Everyone has words they like and words they hate. Often these reactions to words are based on their meanings, but we also react to words because of their sounds. There have been several (generally unrigorous) surveys eliciting the most beautiful and worst-sounding words. From these surveys, the best words conveniently include sonorous and mellifluous.

Here are 10 words that appear on top 10 lists of the best and worst sounding words. 5 are nice and 5 are nasty. Can you identify which are which?

  1. blog
  2. gurgle
  3. nefarious
  4. ineffable
  5. limerance
  6. lugubrious
  7. curd
  8. moist
  9. serendipity
  10. ethereal

Can you identify the phonetic and phonological characteristics associated with the best sounding and worst sounding words?


Best-sounding words Worst-sounding words
ineffable moist
nefarious blog
serendipity lugubrious
limerance gurgle
ethereal curd

These are in the order in which they are ranked in various lists (although mellifluous comes at the top of best-sounding words). Moist is generally viewed as the worst word I English and has even been the focus of a research study aiming to examine why so many people dislike it (doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0153686). The study involved several experiments, each of which focused on one potential reason for disliking words. The findings suggest that it is the meaning of moist, not how it sounds, that makes it so disliked.

There are nevertheless some frequent differences between best-sounding and worst-sounding words. Hated words are often one syllable and include g/k, m and u sounds; favoured words are usually longer and often include f, s, and i sounds.

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