100 Beautiful and Ugly Words
One of the many fascinating features of our language is how often words with pleasant associations are also quite pleasing on the tongue and even to the eye, and how many words, by contrast, acoustically and visually corroborate their disagreeable nature — look no further than the heading for this post.
Enrich the poetry of your prose by applying words that provide precise connotation while also evoking emotional responses. (Note the proportion of beautiful words to ugly ones in the compilation below; it’s easier to conjure the former than the latter, though I omitted words associated with bodily functions, as well as onomatopoeic terms.)
Notice how often attractive words present themselves to define other beautiful ones, and note also how many of them are interrelated, and what kind of sensations, impressions, and emotions they have in common. Also, try enunciating beautiful words as if they were ugly, or vice versa. Are their sounds suggestive of their quality, or does their meaning wholly determine their effect on us?
Amorphous: indefinite, shapeless
Cascade: steep waterfall
Cashmere: fine, delicate wool
Chrysalis: protective covering
Cinnamon: an aromatic spice; its soft brown color
Coalesce: unite, or fuse
Crepuscular: dim, or twilit
Crystalline: clear, or sparkling
Desultory: half-hearted, meandering
Epitome: embodiment of the ideal
Ethereal: celestial, unworldly, immaterial
Etiquette: proper conduct
Exuberant: abundant, unrestrained, outsize
Felicity: happiness, pleasantness
Filament: thread, strand
Idyllic: contentedly pleasing
Incorporeal: without form
Incandescent: glowing, radiant, brilliant, zealous
Ineffable: indescribable, unspeakable
Languid: slow, listless
Lilt: cheerful or buoyant song or movement
Lithe: flexible, graceful
Lullaby: soothing song
Luminescence: dim chemical or organic light
Mellifluous: smooth, sweet
Mist: cloudy moisture, or similar literal or virtual obstacle
Murmur: soothing sound
Myriad: great number
Penumbra: shade, shroud, fringe
Quintessential: most purely representative or typical
Redolent: aromatic, evocative
Resonant: echoing, evocative
Rhapsodic: intensely emotional
Sapphire: rich, deep bluish purple
Somnolent: drowsy, sleep inducing
Sonorous: loud, impressive, imposing
Spherical: ball-like, globular
Sublime: exalted, transcendent
Succulent: juicy, tasty, rich
Suffuse: flushed, full
Symphony: harmonious assemblage
Talisman: charm, magical device
Tessellated: checkered in pattern
Zenith: highest point
Cacophony: confused noise
Cataclysm: flood, catastrophe, upheaval
Chafe: irritate, abrade
Coarse: common, crude, rough, harsh
Cynical: distrustful, self-interested
Decrepit: worn-out, run-down
Disgust: aversion, distaste
Grimace: expression of disgust or pain
Grotesque: distorted, bizarre
Hoarse: harsh, grating
Mediocre: ordinary, of low quality
Obstreperous: noisy, unruly
Rancid: offensive, smelly
Shriek: sharp, screeching sound
Shrill: high-pitched sound
Shun: avoid, ostracize
Slaughter: butcher, carnage
Unctuous: smug, ingratiating
Visceral: crude, anatomically graphic
What did I miss? Add to these lists in a comment below.
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194 Responses to “100 Beautiful and Ugly Words”
Personally I think “crepuscular” is a repulsive word. I think a lot of it is personal taste. I’ve known a few people who can’t abide the word “moist”.
The “ugly words” seem to be able to carry a lot more emotion or it is easier to link an image to them e.g. connecting a picture to disgust, cynical or slaughter. Personally, I like the word crystalline, but also ocean and motion. Thanks for this list, mark.
“Cascade” is more accurately defined as “a series of small waterfalls”. To me, the word has almost onomatopoetic qualities, the two syllables reminiscent of a two-stage waterfall…
I have always thought ‘noisome’ a quite ugly word. As DW says, it is all very subjective.
The word ‘gusset’ always makes me cringe, too.
The ugliest of words – vulgar: coarse and rude
Becky the Floridian
I have a special fondness for the word mediocre. I’m not sure why, strange as it may sound.
Also, have you noticed foods (especially fruits and vegetables) have similar associations?
Yum: peaches, apples, lettuce, melon, rice, pudding, kiwi, chocolate
Yuck: brussel sprouts, spinach, cabbage, spam, hash
I didn’t realize there were so many beautiful and ugly words. Thanks for the list!
I like word Cacophony….bit comedy…I would use it in next meeting…….Ha ha.!
I like Basal Ganglia
I love this list. I will definitely use this as a resource.
1579, from Gk. Elysion pedion “Elysian field,” where heroes and the virtuous live after death, from a pre-Gk. word of unknown origin.
I have always thought this was a beautiful-sounding word, meaning “paradise.” Evidently the ancient Greeks did too; Hades is not nearly so pleasant.
And in reply to Becky, I have always thought the word “melancholy” sounded beautiful, even though the meaning is somewhat sad.
How about contemptible? Or lugubrious? I used to work with a gentleman who would sign his letters…Lugubriously yours.
These are great listings, Mark. I looked for one word in particular: pulchritude. I never use it; I had to look it up just to spell it correctly. It’s an ugly word, and yet it means beautiful. And if you’ve ever heard a screech owl, you know that the word screech barely describes the horror of the sound.
But “opulent” is a favorite word. It’s how I describe my figure—lavish to the point of excess (instead of obese).
I love the names of southern race courses: Charlotte, Darlington, Daytona, Talladega. It makes you sound southern just saying them. Also magnolia, hush puppies, and Amarillo.
I thought I would add a few of favorites I noted were missing from the list. I was somewhat concerned to find that I have an indordinate fondness for so many ugly words. I am choosing to believe it results from your more thorough coverage of the beautiful.
Abominable: causing digust or hatred
Odious: arrousing or deserving hatred
Heinous: shockingly evil or hateful
Barbarous: harsh, merciless or cruel
Noxious: morally corrupting
Odoriferous: morally offensive
I agree with DW on “crepuscular.”
According to some experts (Tolkien the philologist in particular), “cellar door” is phonetically the most beautiful phrase in the English language.
I love this post! Serendipity is my favorite word. It’s just so lovely to say and to experience.
Great list. Pustule is good and nasty.
rutilant: having a reddish glow
beatific: having a blissful appearance
amphigory: a nonsense verse or composition
natter: to chat causally – not sure if beautiful or ugly?
When wikileaks published those cables a few weeks ago, there was one in which (Italian Prime Minister) Sylvio Berlusconi was described as “feckless.” Not really an ugly word, but such a perfectly wonderful descriptive word, and you just don’t see it used enough. I wanted to thank the State Department employee who wrote that, not only for the laugh, but also for a job well done, just for the use of that word.
Oh I quite like cacophony. And “charivari” which I believe has a similar meaning. And I agree that “crepuscular” is quite ugly.
My favourite at the moment is “moue”, which always conjures up the image of a young french woman with a sullen, sexy look.
I think “oblivion” is a beautiful word despite the meaning.
Thanks for reminding me of the many words available to us ~ for use in our language and our writing.
I’ll go with recalcitrant (not compliant) for my fifty cent word. Obtuse (slow of wit) for my everyday word. Jojack
A police officer asked me “Do you know why I stopped you?”
I said “You know, I have the same problem. I rush into a room, and then realize I have no idea why I went in there.
I want to add ululate–to howl or wail in grief (or joy); from the sound of it, I’d add it to beautiful words; by definition, it may not be. Rike
I think you should include (in the beautiful list) tintinnabulation–the ringing of bells.
I mean, how can you go wrong?
Ugly word: “fash,” as in “Don’t fash yourself.” From he Scottish for “worry.” My grandmother used it often in the sense of, “Don’t get all worked up about things” or “Don’t beat yourself up over it” or “Don’t blame yourself.”
I always look forward to DWT. This one was particularly enjoyable. I was surprised, however, that you didn’t have the word gossamer. I love this word.
Gotta agree with Bish on pustule; a REAL nasty word!
Thanks for something to think about every day.
I love the word withersoever. Something to do with Don Quixote. I know it is a mouthful, but it evokes the past, something dreamy, wistful, and daily life seeming to pass more slowly than today’s pace.
I think pus is a really ugly word. I can’t separate it at all from its meaning, I guess.
An ugly word i think is missing: FICKLE
Please make more lists like this, please, I’ve been trying so hard to find lists like this to help expand my vocabulary.
As for words to add, “everlong” is quickly becoming one of my favourite words, for a beautiful word. One word that I have always found ugly, though it’s meaning is not, is the word “glowed.” I just despise the sound of it, though it’s most likely because my instinct is to make the past-tense of similar-sounding words ending in -ow to -ew, so that instead of glowed it should be glew.. like blow/blew, know/knew..
but please, oh please, make more lists like this!
Luscious is another beautiful world.
What about “nostalgic” as another beautiful word?
And perhaps euphoria.
I love this post and will keep it. It includes most of the words that seem the most beautiful to me. I can’t access the list right now, but I like: mellow, lovely, cherubim. Yes, I see how the meanings influenced my choices.
I can hardly say the words, roach and cockroach. They bring back the extreme disgust I felt as a child when I turned on a light in a garage and a number of the large winged variety flew at me. Apart from the insects themselves, I can’t stand those two words. I call the large ones by the other name we use in Florida, palmetto bugs, and I call the smaller ones cucarachas. Somehow, in Spanish it doesn’t sound so bad. I’m actually embarrassed for anyone whose surname is Roach, though I’m sure it has nothing to do with the bugs. Incidentally, I’m an retired elementary teacher and love wildlife, including most of the smallest kind. I’ve picked up many different kinds of insects, and don’t kill them unless it’s absolutely necessary. I’ve loved spiders since before Charlotte’s Web was written.
Doesn’t “Visceral” also mean “Instinctive”?
Yes, and “deep” and “earthy.” A visceral feeling is a gut feeling, because visceral literally means “guts,” from viscera, a word for the internal organs. I listed only the ugly connotations.
Beautiful listing! I think ‘eternal’ is a beautiful word too.
Cool list! Thanks for compiling it!
I have forgotten the name of the author who published several collections of English language oddities, puzzles, and the like, but he had two favorites which I remember from his own list of “most beautiful words”–zephyr (with which I quite concur) and hemorrhoid (with which I pointedly disagree). As I remember, the “o-r-r-h” orthography seemed to have been a favorite of his, for some reason; I also seem to remember him having said nice things about the word “gonorrhea.” Beauty, apparently, was indeed more in the eye of that particular beholder than in his other organs.
Great words! How about ‘happenstance’?
I used it in an essay once and got a bonus tick on top, nice to see the lecturer was a word lover too!
I’m a fan of the word ‘aleatory’ (relying on luck or chance).
Agreed with Jojack on recalcitrant! So many harsh sounds in the word makes it really hard on the ears.
A beautiful word that I think should be added is ‘pendulum’, such lovely nasal ‘n’ and ‘m’ sounds that make it so pleasant to hear.
I thought “iridescent” was an ADJECTIVE that meant ” shining” or “lustrous”? The abstract noun form of the word is “iridescence” which means “lustre” ….have I got it wrong?
I haven’t heard “susurration” being used except in printed text. But have really seen excessive use of “plethora”….
My family refers to a certain ugly condition as having the beautiful word. the condition is diarrhea
I know these words aren’t meant to be ugly, but I detest the words ‘chuckle’ and ‘chortle’.
They’re just disgusting words.
‘Ugliness’ does seem to be related to a word’s meaning. Voracious is ugly and so is its meaning. Gossamer sounds beautifully light like butterfly wings or fine lace.
And, as The Economist magazine’s well-known rules for writers compels us to use the easy word rather than a little-known synonym, we are left without ‘crepuscular’ and should use ‘dim’, or ‘chance’ instead of ‘serendipitous’. Sad!
We left out funny words from these excellent lists, those that make us laugh. I love some Yiddish expressions I grew up with because they sound and feel just right, and often mean exactly what we are trying to say. They are also short: klutz (clumsy person); fe (expression of disgust); kvetch (complain); or nu (so?) or no? (in English), or ne? (in Afrikaans). And how about meh (so what? which is hardly spoken at all except with a twitch of the shoulders)?
Little miss squarepants
beautiful – bubble, humble, awesome, honey. ugly- gash, crank, cot, thrush.
I teach creative writing to high school seniors, and one of the first things I have them do is to keep a running list of favorite and least favorite words in the last pages of their journals. (Turn to the last page and flip the journal upside down so that you don’t have a sense of writing backwards through the pages.)
I used to keep a list of only favorite words, but I quickly found that my students were interested in those I mentioned as my least favorites, including phlegm, crusty, urinal, impressive, and prestigious. I find that whatever description I read that employs those last two is sure to turn me away. Did you ever enjoy a conversation with someone who talks about her prestigious law firm or his impressive credentials? And bunion is a loathesome word, made even worse by earning them from running.
As for favorites, many of mine have to do with affectionate memories and longings, to include Gallatin Valley, Nova Scotia, swamp, periwinkle (color, flower, snail), river, hydrangea, hymn, hosanna, Wabash, Edinburgh.
Once in a while I ask my students to take a word from their list of favorites and start writing. Invariably I find that the associations with the word are so powerful that they need no further direction.
i believe that the word rendezvous is quite beautifull. Also beautiful is Vanilla, bouquet, and twilight….
I’ve always liked Crapulence (intoxication), mainly because so many people I have known use it to mean the first four letters.
Makes me wonder if people use it that way the word’s definition may change over time, much like Aggravate/Irritatate.
Vibrant is awesome
I agree that crepuscular is ugly. I would suggest that its synonym, vespertine, falls into the beautiful category.
Consider: “She was a vespertine beauty, the evening star of the social scene; but her twin brother was a crepuscular curmudgeon, a sunken, sulking sociopath.”
Since when did The Economist espouse parsimony in word choice? It was there that I learned the lovely word fissiparous.
I hate the word ‘pamper’ – for its modern hotel-market-speak connotations of hedonism. I also dislike wordsmith; what’s wrong with ‘writer’?
I’m probably in the minority, but the words “smoothie” and “yummy” make me cringe. They’re too gooey or babyish or something.
My favourite word and mantra which always calms me down is ‘silver’.
Subaqueous is a nice word….
All words have their own beauty and wonder for me. Even ‘ugly’ words like “slaughter”, “placenta”, “visceral”, and “despondent” make me shiver with joy when I hear them, just because they have such strong meaning. I guess everything is beautiful that way. We just have to change our perspective.
I think the most beautiful word is “lily.” (Many other flower words are quite beautiful: daffodil, azalea, verbena, chamomile, wisteria, myrtle, to name a few.)
Crepuscular rays are the “fingers of God.” Rays of light seeming to come from one source. As such – I like “fingers of God” better…
I was talking to my wife the other day & used the word “amelioration” (properly) in a sentence. We stopped and looked at each other and agreed, “…wow, that’s a cool word!”
I like the word …ellipsis…
A word that makes me cringe is “snack.” I especially abhor “a tasty little snack.” Sends shivers down my spine.
In addition to “cellar door” purportedly being a beautiful combination of words there is “summer afternoon,” which, not only sounds lovely, but conjures up an image of peaceful perfection in spite of the possibility that it could instead be something straight from hell.
thanks for this post, will help us a lot
I think the words I dislike most are due to the spelling and the overall appearance of them, though they also sound wrong to me:
I actually like the word cynical. It just sort of flows of my tongue.
Cataclysm also has a nice ring to it. It just sounds like a powerful word. Maybe I just enjoy hearing bords that begin with “C.”
I think flaccid is an ugly word, but it makes me laugh!
Words and their affect (effect?) on us are strange indeed. Two lovely words stay with me from reading Gail Godwin’s book ‘Father Melancholy’s Daughter’ – ‘rinse’ and ‘jug’. I guess it is just the mood I was in at the time.
A horrible word that fascinates me is ‘Bucolic’. When I heard it first, I thought it was some sort of animal disease. Twenty years later, I am still battling to come to terms with it as a description of rural utopia…
Funny… I hate the word moist…
How could you all forget ‘vomit’? I hate that word so much, it’s horrible.
I like the word mizzle-it’s used to describe the (usual) weather here in the Pacific Northwest. Mist + drizzle.
I HATE the word sip. OM asks “Can I have a sip?” but actually means “I’m going to drink nearly all of your pop but I figured I’d ask first”. So I really dislike that particular word :\
@Rob Hoey: I want you to know that “tintinnabulation” is my favorite word. No one I know even is aware of it’s existence, and I think that’s sad because the word is so gorgeous. It definitely is a vivid word, too, no? My mother introduced me to it. She and her friends used to see who could spell it the quickest. I learned it from a young age and became a pro at spelling it. Absolutely beautiful word.
Also, beautiful list! I would also like to include the word “undulate”. I don’t know if it’s a beautiful or ugly word – personally, I think it can be both. However, it means to move in a wave-like matter. I think when spoken, the word “undulate” definitely undulates from my mouth. It conjures pictures of waves crashing into a rock, or blue, sheer fabric rippling in the wind. Lovely word.
immarcesible (unable to be erased or forgotten)
oeillarde (to ogle at a glance)
toe (I’m not a huge fan of ‘oe’ together)
I got to the “Ugly words” list and upon seeing “Cacophony” I immediately thought of how much I love that word. I’ve also always loved the sound of “visceral.” As for the beautiful words, I find many of them displeasing. Halcyon, diffuse, and incandescent in particular. (Not to mention Felicity is the name of my best friend so I would never use it in writing anyway.) It really is all about personal taste.
I like the sound of these words:
arrogant (the word itself is arrogant);
aurora (it cascades gloriously from my lips, radiant and red!);
dastardly (what the hell, the word’s powerful!);
serpent (another strong word);
espionage (it has this French/Latino ring);
mint (so minty!);
lily (enhanced by the fact that it’s my name);
dell (a small valley with trees growing in or around it); and now that I think about it, the words,
“valley” and “tree”. They are all so poetic.
I don’t like the sound of words:
lugubrious (I find it unwieldy);
claustrophobia (isn’t it hideous?);
benevolent (never mind it’s meaning);
ululalate (?!); curmudgeon; and
Words that I love include:
pulchritude (not the greatest sounding but, oh, that meaning…)
purple passages (such a beautiful term)
I mispelled amethyst. Please replace it with the following entry:
“amethyst (amethystine is lovely too)”
Perspicacious and obsequious have always been my favourite words, as well as eschew. They’re a lot of fun to say.
Irenic is a beautiful (and peaceful) word. What can be uglier than “blastoma”?
I love the words ‘snout’ and ‘pumpkin’ for the way they sound on the tongue. Beautiful. Particularly snout, but maybe it’s just the way I say it personally.
But I’ve always found the word ‘feral’ to be strangely beautiful along with ‘retribution’. The word ‘shattered’ is also a favourite.
I really dislike ‘moist’ and ‘vein’ for no reason in particular. I did once know someone who hated the word ‘pod’ for the sharp plosive sound at the beginning coupled with the ‘d’.
Just thinking about favourite words… I’ve never found the word ‘Angel’ to be particularly beautiful enough to do an Angel justice.
Oh, and I love the word ‘sleek’ for the very way it describes itself.
My favourite’s ‘sisyphean’. My spell check doesn’t know it, but I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s spelt. It relates to the Sisyphus of greek mythology and is used an adjective to describe an endless, unyielding labour. I think it just rolls off the tongue.
actually i want to know those beautiful and powerful words when anyone listen he should be impresed but the words which are placed in this website are brilliant,enormous and aspeceious
I agree that the meaning of the word has an influence on how ‘beautiful’ we think it to be. Personally, I like the word autumn, not only by its appearance and sound, but also the images it stirs. On the other hand, ‘disease’ seems very off-putting.
Ugly words tend to be guttural with plosives and often Anglo-Saxon or Celtic roots–probably a reflection of the periods in English history when the rulers were and spoke mostly French.
Most of our ‘swear words’ come form these roots–the same term, translated into French or Latin based words is often acceptable in places the A-S words aren’t.
Personally I’ve often found the beauty of a word directly proportional to the accuracy and easy with which it describes its meaning.
“Visceral” certainly describes an ugly situation, but I’ve always admired it for the ease with which it let me conjure an image.
Likewise with “Grotesque” – the very word illustrates its meaning, especially the q, which feels rather pompous and, well, grotesque amidst all the simpler words around it.
Its amazing the feelings words can conjur in the minds of those who love to play with them.
Some words that gives me the tingles;
There are ugly sounding words that do turn your mind topsy-turvy,but they still come in handy when the pen is ready to flow.
A teacher of mine described what he felt was the “ugliest word in the English language.” And, even after searching through your list and a number of comments, I have to agree.
“Twig” is horrendous. It’s just a small stick but it combines two very prominent sounds of distaste. First is the ‘twi-‘. If you say it, it’s almost as though you are huffing out of anger. There isn’t a nice way to say it. Then, there is the hard ‘g’ at the end. I can feel the bored slack in my face saying it! Especially since it comes out as ‘guh’.
Incidentally, The Elysian Fields, in French, is Champs-Élysées.
Apologies if you already knew that, but most people have heard of it but don’t know what it means.
You forgot MOIST!
@Bob … I’m of the same mind with you … It hinges on the how and when the word is used.
There are many words that I like but most folks wouldn’t know them since they aren’t French, Greek, or a Latinate.
karandash … just a fun word to say (Russian for pencil)
huru … another fun word … (Old English – especially, certainly, at least, at all events, at any rate, in any case, however, even, yet, only, indeed,)
infaru – invasion OE
intinga – matter, material OE
thole is a good one instead of endure (in the wordbook)
guthfloga – guþfloga, guðfloga, – one that flies to battle (Beowulf)
rodor – sky, heavens OE
hador – bright, clear, serene OE
thracu – fury OE
cacophony … yes, I like it and I have used it. Greek
gainsay … oppose, contradict, deny, disagree with (in the wordbook)
tungol – planet OE
glam – message, loud talk, din, loud chattering (in the wordbook)
Words that I don’t like: most four-syllable Latinates! And that is likely about half your list.
i just love the word ‘archipelago’ – so beautiful.
My four teenage nieces hate the sound of the words, hematoma and cord blood. Just hearing these words make them cringe. Really, so funny!
Eh, I like brussel sprouts. 😀
I like the word Catalyst, but I don’t know if it fits under either. I’d put it under beautiful.
I honestly think that all words have their certain beauty to it, but some words do sound pretty ugly. I personally love the word evening, just because of the way it looks and sounds.
I love the word Coco.
Other beautiful words (to me):
Ugly Words: fester and canker
I’m thinking too much about the meaning probably.
I meant: cocoa.
The words ‘puss’ or ‘belch’. I actually feel a little sick when I hear them said.
I love nosferatu. Negative connotations but it sounds so lovely.
One of the ugliest words I can think of, (and used by third rate journalists all the time), is the word “upcoming”. Where did this hideous word come from, and why is preferred over the established “forthcoming”?Is it a word like “hassle” (originally a black American word meaning a drug bust) which will gradually die out? Here’s hoping….
Cataclysm must be my favorite word… It inspires some sort of disturbance. It’s not ugly.
A word i really enjoy- cupola
I like the word halcyon. (It would appear the drug manufacturers also like the word, but they spell it ‘halcion.’)
For some odd reason, I also like the word diesel.
I think the most wonderfully descriptive word in the English language is ‘turd.’ Whoever thought of that one was right on the money!
For anyone who has the misfortune to be buried near a sewage disposal plant, the term ‘interred’ takes on a whole new meaning. (That’s my joke for the day…groan!)
From the top of my head, I’m especially fond of contumax, potentate and amarinthine. Grovel, sycophant and hauty exude a sense of disgust.
“Contumax” gives defiance maximum appeal. “Potentate” brings out the potency and power of a ruler while reminding me of the simple nourishment of a baked potato. Amarinthine simply sounds eternally pleasant and fragrant.
“Grovel” sounds fittingly like gravel, from whence a groveler stretches. “Sycophant” sounds to much like suck, and plays into its meaning well, yet disturbingly. To say “hauty,” you must position your mouth so that you actually look it.
How could such a cumbersome (ugly) word as pulchritrude resonate beauty, and the high spirited word ‘enervate’, evoke ‘deprived of strength and vitality’ when it suggests something quite the opposite.
Who came up with ‘penis’ to describe the male organ it is definitely an ugly word.
From the time I heard the word SERENDIPITY, I already loved it even without knowing the meaning yet.
I’m an English teacher and I teach a unit on choosing words for their sound. One of my favorites is susurrus
I love the words segue and lambent.
I detest carbuncle, carcinoma and horripilation.
Enjoyed your compilation.
I wonder how much of our association with “beautiful” or “ugly” words comes merely from our knowledge of their meaning? For example, if a non-english-speaker were presented with this list, would they make similar judgements based purely on the words’ sounds, or would they need meaning to make such a determination?
I think my favorite word is ‘revelation’ (: It’s so dark, yet happy as well. I love it ^_^
I think the word Inamorata is quite beautiful, in sound and meaning.
I like the words ‘nonchalant’ and ‘cavalier’.
I have always hated the word “gelatinous.” It reminds me of the nasty stuff around potted meat or Spam. Yuck!
i hate the word ‘bucolic.’ it sounds like colitis or some other disease
Please, eschew obfiscation!
I know it’s not a real word, but I hate “celeb” because of how it sounds, not just because it’s used by popular media. It feels like a lazy word, too much like “schleb” (please excuse the spelling if it’s wrong) for the meaning, also partly because it feels unfinished and partly because it feels like the sounds just shouldn’t go together in that combination.
Also hate the word “actually” but I think that has more to do with it generally being redundant than the way it sounds or looks.
“Sex” is a terrible word – looks good in news articles but sounds awful and doesn’t roll off the tongue. An “S” shouldn’t be hard like that. Come to think of it, “vagina” sounds like something awful – I remember discovering the word before I had any idea of what it meant, and I thought it sounded like the name of a disease. On the other hand, there are names of diseases that sound quite romantic (such as “syphillis”) until you learn their meaning.
i love the word cerebellum. I think it sounds very beautiful.
I dislike when you read book reviews on Amazon and people talk about “dipping” into books and a book you can “dip” into. Really, it’s disturbing on so many levels.
Ohhhhh nice list 🙂
Uhm you forgot nefarious it means evil thats a pretty ugly word to mee ~
Butt. Ugly word.
Fuzz. Ugly word.
Snot. Ugly word.
I agree that the word Serendipity is beautiful. I wish I could use it more often in my work!
Valour, valiant, fortitude, chivalry, victory
Purity, virtue, divine, heaven
Noble, sublime, supreme
Lily, lilac, blossom, bloom
Aquamarine, azure, emerald
Unicorn, faerie, mermaid, angel
Poesy, harmony, melody, violin, lute, elegy, aquarelle
Silk, velvet, velour
Ivory, pearlescent, platinum, ebony
Cream, marmalade, almond, olive, honey
Dove, swan, robin
Rejection, destruction, dungeon
Avarice, predator, gnaw, gnash
Jealousy, dread, horror, hatred, grudge, murder, torture, mutilate, cripple
Lecherous, swine, vulture
Filth, dirt, foul, stench, reek, rotten, dank, drab, dreary
Rodent, rat, lice, plague, death, grave
Werewolf, witch, gnome, dragon (although dragon maybe is not so much ugly as rather evil-sounding), ghost, ghoul
Curse, poison, viper, adder
Spit, ooze, crust, blister, pus, retch
Infect, insect, crawl, larva
Sorry if some’ve already been mentioned.
Also, beautiful: porcelain, nightingale
Ugly: hiss, snarl
Thanks for the interesting list – for some reason and I have no idea why I like the word peril – with its connotation it could be considered an ugly word.
I have always loved the word “triplicate.” It feels so crisp when you say it . . .
Anatomy / anatomical
(Someone already mentioned my 7th grade English teacher’s favorite – lugubrious – and one of my others, obtuse.)
I dislike proactive (but mainly because of bad association with a person than with the word).
Inveigled – not sure of meaning any more but it sounds bad to me. (In-, dis-, mid- and mal- prefixes have those negative connotations.)
My favorite words:
I love the word lament. It’s meaning is so sad, but it’s such a beautiful one! Ingrate, and for that matter, grate, have never been beautiful words for me.
How about ‘love’ and ‘hate’ ?
I’ve always thought the ugliest sounding word in English is squat. I suppose it could have something to do with meaning but really, except for when camping, I can’t think of any particularly unpleasant associations. I really don’t like any of the squ’s (squint, squab, squire, etc), though squirt and squeeze are kind of funny sounding. At the moment, I can’t think of beautiful English words that have not already been mentioned. In French, I love champignon and hippopotame. (That’s probably because I haven’t spoken fluent French since childhood!)
I hate words: pleasent and surprise
In my first college English course (a long time ago), I learned that nearly all words that begin with “sn” are ugly or negative sounding: snake, sneer, snot, snore, snicker, snarky, sniffle, snide, snafu, snarl, snob, snout, snooty, snit, sneaky, snitch, , and on and on. Their is that exception, though. It is “snuggle.” How can anybody not like that one?
There is a “their” there that snuck in on its own. I hate software that thinks it knows more than you do.
I was just thanking my girlfriend for sending me this link, explaining that the ‘site is new to me and I intend to visit often. Then I realised something that just sneaks into your criteria: I rather enjoy the sound and stress of “frequent” as a verb, but find it a little harsh as an adjective. Thoughts?
Place names are a little off topic, but Everglades always cheers me up. If Heaven weren’t a word then all good people would eventually die and go to somewhere called the Everglades.
Based purely on sound…
and any word that ends with an “sts” sound, like fists, wrists, busts, linguists, etc.
I don’t understand using meaning or connotation to describe a word as beautiful or ugly. The word itself is just a collection of letters that we make into sounds. The sounds mean nothing by themselves so those are what I am listening to.
I’ve always felt that the number of nasty words beginning with sn so outweighs those with a nice meaning that there must be something in that. Do we inherently dislike the Sn sound???
Snort, Snake, Sniff, Snag, Snub, Snot, Snow, Snide, Snip, Snare, Snap, Snail
Closet, crepuscular, eviscerate and pustule are some of the least pleasant words I know. Abyssopelagic is particularly creepy if you know what it means.
As for the most beautiful: Aeolian, crescent, lambent and o’clock are all quite lovely. Encyclopaedia has a fitting richness about it.
Yes, “crepuscular” makes Twilight sound like a puss oozing scab. Other than that, very few words are truly ugly. When the sound and feel of a word is at odds with the image it evokes I think the word has problems. But the mere scarcity of use or the ancient etymology of a word make only the user feel important and can alienate a reader. Wax with care, all ye poetics. 🙂
To me the word melancholy conveys more than a generic sadness, it carries a sadness that is bittersweet or a sadness born from good things that are forever gone…
Ugly word: moist.
I have always liked the word annihilate. It sounds exactly like what it means. Can’t classify as ugly or beautiful, just a good word that means what says and says what it means. Good article.
Crepuscular – ugh! But one of my favorite words is “nimrod,” which is kind of ugly and has taken on exactly the opposite meaning (a doofus) from what it actually means (a brave hero).
Let’s combine 3 of the ugliest words in the English language into a sentence: Your egregious blog is simply unconscionable.
Personal hate is people who pepper speech with the word ‘obviously’ – if it’s so obvious why tell me? It sets my teeth on edge now just thinking about it. Shirk and scar are ugly too.
Beauiful words –
I really love the word “psychedelia” or “psychedelic.” It just sounds so lovely.
I detest the word “glob” – like “globs of cheese.” It sounds disgusting.
I absolutely adore this list. I’m not putting this past any of the viewers that have read this:
Everyone must have found at least one word in this glorious list, or even in the comments, that they just can’t stop thinking about now, or that they would like to add to their everyday dictionary. In the previous comments. I hadn’t even realized that the phrase ‘cellar door’ was as seductive as it is. And as I read the comments I started noticing that the word ‘euphoria’ was being used a lot, and that is one of the most amazing words to pronounce. The unique phonetics clashed together to produce this word is just so luring. Also, I don’t think anyone really noticed, but where in the list of beautiful words is the word ‘beautiful’ itself? That, my friend, was a major disappointment in my eyes.
I hate the sound of the words placenta and delegate.
I also hate the word toddler because the German word for death is tod. , really. But halycon, midnight, terrence, pulchritude and lambent are some of my favorite words.
I think visceral isn’t necessarily an ugly word because it’s other meaning as an adjective:
“characterized by intuition or instinct rather than intellect.”
..that gravelly feeling that comes from your gut, kind of strong and rough (or at least that’s how I perceive it). There is something so basic and human about it that makes it somewhat innately beautiful. The emotion of it.
Rebecca Ryals Russell
Hi Mark. I love your blog and have subscribed to it daily. Would you mind if I reposted some of your posts complete with links and urls?
Zenith: My favourite word. I mostly found it in tests and competition questions….
Noteworthy lists 🙂
beautiful words :
“Refurbish” is quite ugly. So is “splurge.”
I don’t think that words should be classified as “ugly” or “beautiful” based purely on their meanings, although that is part of it. The sound itself should have a unpleasant connotation, such as “moist,” the most ugly word in the English language. However: words shouldn’t be disliked because of the unpleasant meaning associated with them.
Some words just glow from the sounds, not the meanings.
I have always found the word ‘sanguine’ to be the most mysterious. It sounds peaceful and calm yet has the almost opposite meaning – being flushed with blood.
I love the word ‘sagacious’. I knew a horse once whose name it was.
I found this site whilst hunting down quizzes / challenges to develop my internal comms team.
What a treasure this is! I am now 35 minutes late leaving the office. Oops.
I have many favourite words, two of which I would like to add to the ‘beautiful’ list:
To the ugly list, I shall add:
On the basis that my team needs to write engaging and pleasant-to-read prose, I am abandoning what I’d planned for tomorrow’s ‘Tuesday Quiz’. Instead, they will be asked to send me five words for each list. Let’s see what they make of that!
Thanks for a great site. Duly bookmarked in my ‘favourites’.
These “Most Beautiful Words” lists always bring to mind a favorite passage from Alexandre Dumas’ Vicomte de Bragelonne:
“…he also fancied he heard the melancholy moaning of the water which falls back again into the wells – a sad, funereal, solemn sound, which strikes the ear of the child and the poet – both dreamers – which the English call splash; Arabian poets gasgachau; and which we Frenchmen, who would be poets, can only translate by a paraphrase – the noise of water falling into water.”
Thanks to this memorable passage, “splash” always makes my list of Most Beautiful Words.
Words I like
-Equilibrium ( i like the way it sounds)
-moist (come at me)
Words I hate
– mold (disgusting in any context)
I agree with DW. When I hear “crepuscular,” what jumps out is “pus.”
There was a movie with Leslie Caron (as Cinderella) and Estelle Winwood as the fairy godmother who often commented on the beautiy of words. Her favorites were replete with “L’s”. I cant remember them all, but she liked “Cinderella”,”windowsill” and “pickle relish”
I find the sound of “ch” very ugly. “Church” and “urchin” are horribly ugly. The Mexican word for pork cracklins is “chicharrones” which sounds as bad as it looks. (And tastes).
I adore the words:
“Colloquial” which means informal language.
“Vexed” which means annoyed.
“Tumultuous” which means disturbance or uproar.
“Surreptitious” which means sneaky.
and last but not least, “Petrichor” which is the smell of earth after rain.
Hope this helps someone!
My absolute favorite words are “wanderlust”, “auspicious”, “velvet”, “serendipity”, “petrichor”, and “dusk”.
I love ‘chuckle’ and hate ‘knickers’
In some countries they are called panties which is a lot nicer.
Some of my most beautiful words:
Less beautiful words:
My list of beautiful words:
azaleas, serenade, chagrined, diminutive, engagement , soirée, promenade, summer shandy , Chablis, bliss, treasures, torrential, moonlight, rain, crystal , cavern, fairytale, enchanted, Camelot, geraniums, credenza , chandelier, gingham, taffeta, magical, bibliography, librarian, parfait , angel food, frosting, glitter, glimmering , icicles, tangerines, clementines, ballerina, stanzas, poetry, amber, dragons/dragonflies , gemstones, dragees (sorry I cannot get the accent mark), mauve , strawberries chantilly, grenadine, pomegranates, pom poms , tresses, evening gown , gala, grace , fond, crush, affection, confection , crepes Suzette, minuet, shimmy, chassis. darling,and being a longtime fan of the band REM, I would have to include reckoning, murmur, and pageant. Growing up two of my favorite books were The Sugarplum Fairy and By the Shores of Silver Lake . What beautiful titles!
Word that is ugly: panties . They are lingerie, a very pretty word ,
By the way, referring to the phrase cellar door, you might want to refer back to the eighties band Poison’s hit song “Talk Dirty to Me “.
The word ‘Loath’ is the ugliest of all words. It supersedes hate, and to contrary belief, it is the word that is opposite of Love, not the word hate.
“Ugly” words can be very effective and enjoyable to use.
I particularly like words ending in -id (and probably use them far too much)
eg: fetid, flaccid, putrid, rancid, rabid, morbid, torpid, sordid, lurid, torrid, vapid, squalid, acrid, turgid, vapid
They are so descriptive and cover such a vast range of unpleasant and undesirable qualities. (On the other hand, lucid and pellucid are lovely words)
I agree about the “sn-” words being negative. To say them, you must curl one side of your upper lip in derision.
Just finished reading all of the comments, and while there is merit to most of the “ugly” words mentioned, can someone please help me understand why “moist” was mentioned as an “ugly” word by so many people? The word is innoucuois. If there’s a hatred due to the word’s sexual connotation, then that’s a personal hang-up, not a reason to hate a word. Expand your twisted (and limited) minds.
I adore the words, Library, Novella, Firefly, Sultry, Effervescent, and Exotic.
I loathe the word, poop. Disgusting and banned from vocabulary in my house.
In regards to moist, since it seems to be a highly discussed topic, I will add my opinion.
Personally, I’ve never associated the word moist with anything sexual. Having said that, I don’t like the “oi” sound in moist and agree with the majority. It’s an ugly word to my ears.
Wet, on the other hand, is sexual to me, and I like that word. A lot.
Just my two cents.
Thanks for your “two cents” Melonie; I beleive you’re one of the first writers to explain disdain for the word based on it’s “sound,” versus the many comments about its association. And for those reading, so sorry about the typos in my original post — empassioned writing is no excue 😉
For me I like the words “Abyss”,”Labyrinth”,”Pandora” and “lullaby” because it feels like they’re surrounded with a mystique aura.
I also like the words “Introvert” and “extrovert” they define the human nature and personality so much.
Just so you know “abraccadabra” has a nice meaning, it means “I will create with words”
‘Beautiful’ and ‘ugly’ words have their own charm, depending on the context and the circumstances we use them. Sometimes ugly ones even might have more impact on us than beautiful ones, especially in oral speech. R and L are the most beautiful consonants in my opinion. Also, the more vocals the word includes the nicer it sounds, and the less ‘cramped together’ they are, the nicer they sound because they are easier to pronounce and utter, and they will still sound beautiful even spoken by a non-native who has not yet mastered his accent.
grandeur: majestic, symmetric sound due to ‘r’ at start and end
rogue: nice but short. vogue: ugly because v+g sounds uglier than r+g.(sorry mrs. Wintour, strong name by the way)
violent: very strong meaning but not so strong word, sounds like violet (a flower of all things! doesn’t help at all)
nirvana: the most beautiful and meaningful of all words in my opinion. strong, melodious and harmonious to pronounce
storm: 4/5 consonants, short, strong meaning, non-harmonious but amazing word, breaks the rules
shrimp: unimpressive word even though it’s 5/6 consonants
mundane: it doesn’t sound nice, unimpressive
ferocious: “cious” makes it sound more powerful. conscious, anxious, obnoxious: strong word, contains “x”
tirade: short, easy to pronounce
bounty: short, easy to pronounce
apocalypse: strong “ps” and easy to pronounce
Tezcatlipoca: unusual but strong consonant combination. “tl”
scoundrel: high impact word, many consonants
betrothed: sounds like “be trod”!!! betrothal sounds nicer, but still..
kidnap: not much impact for the meaning it has
wreath: word not beautiful enough for its meaning
rambunctious: strong word, lots of consonants
nurture: low impact word, repetitive ‘ur’, positive effect, it sounds like “nature”
Thanks for this list, it was really interesting. I have a couple words to add, however.
Beautiful words: comely, meaning attractive and very pleasing to the eye.
Ugly words: Abhorrent – something that causes dislike, repugnant.
Wow, what a wonderful list! I personally love the word tangible (perceptible by touch) its just brilliant when you want to emphasise and emotion.
Zealous, ebullient, vivacious, pragmatic, prejudiced and malignant…
My father once ended a note to my mother with, “Your uxorious husband.”
Uxorious: having excessive fondness for ones own wife
Your comment makes me laugh. such a wise father you have.
Also, I like the way ‘pompous’ sounds.
Underdog- my favourite word.
Personally, I am in love with the word “evanescence”, which means something along the lines of “gradually fading into nothing”. “Dusky” is also another favorite of mine.
Fun reading this page. Seems most people are influenced by the words’ meanings. What’s wrong with moist? It puts its meaning across rather well. And bucolic? I like that it sounds different than what it means—Idyllic, aromatic fields (something to that effect). I like ukulele (pronounced ‘oo-koo-lay-lay’ in its original Hawaiian). I like the names of many states: Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Tennessee, Kentucky… Almost any word in French or Hawaiian—coup, aloha, nouveau. And zoftig, corpulent, lithe, violet, adobe, buffalo, gazelle, soliloquy, obscure, Saturnine. I like words with crispness.
Ugly: tintinnabulation—doesn’t sound at all like bells ringing, laborious to say. Pot-stickers and pop-tarts—unappetizing sounds; nouveau-fake sounding names of headache and depression pills; decaf; smart-meter—words that indoctrinate by definition; drone, nuclear, all three-letter diseases, and med-speak. And who thought up masturbation?—sounds like working on the assembly line in an automobile plant.
Phlegm is a disgusting word.
All are cool words; Love them.
I’ve read up and down the comments and was surprised to not find this word, given that you experience the slightest ghost of the feeling just by reading it. It may just be me personally, but I find this to be an extremely evocative word.
Sluices. Exhaling air slowly through my teeth and then sliding my tongue to the roof of my mouth, slightly puckering my lips and then again making the air-through-the-teeth maneuver for me actually creates the vision and sound of the slippery movement of shallow water over flat rocks.
Call me Mr. Simple… We’ve all had three senses (hopefully no more) tell us: nothing is more ugly than diarrhea. And ugly fast, faster than projectile vomit, the fastest ugly in the world, maybe even the universe. Before you can think, blink or turn on the light….You know…
In a distant second place, “snot,” and not without a way-cool gross factor. A bright yellow snot bolo blow out of one nostril (the other plugged by the man’s stumped arm), spinning like a football kicked for a field goal, and it had the distance.
Some words that use to be synonymous with beautiful are now ugly and visa-versa. Like California… Sheit fire, done went Godzilla-fugly, and on the other hand, Vietnam… one beautiful country.
Being Irish, my four most beautiful words are: dogs, fishing, beer and women. And animals groups are pretty cool. A “murder” of crows, a “gaggle” of geese, a “litter” of pups, a “pod” of whales, a “covey” of quail, a “herd” of cows, a “case” of beer (just checking), a “school” of tuna, a “troop” of baboons (as long as you don’t see their red-puffed butts), a “rafter” of turkeys.
Time to go “sizzle” a couple of New York Strips, sides of “grilled” asparagus and “cheese-toast.” Got to thank my “curvy” red-headed neighbor for taking care of my dog.
An obscure one, but very evocative and onomatopoeic I think – ‘phantasmagoria’
‘a shfting series of phantasms, illusions, or deceptive appearances, as in a dream or as created by the imagination’.
‘a changing scene made up of many elements’.
My list of ‘beautiful words’ include—
synergy, team, serene, holy, sacred, domain, compassion, converge,
Malaise: A feeling of general unease or discomfort.
Personally I find it wonderfully ugly. Conversely, I find ‘malady’ to be a very graceful word for something bad.
Also, ‘penultimate,’ meaning the one right before the final.
I’m glad this list is still going! Several people mentioned not caring for the word “moist.” It’s used as a character’s name in at least one Terry Pratchett novel (Going Postal, I think), and a henchman has that name in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.
To me, it goes well with damp – another word that just doesn’t sound right. Too often both words are used to describe the palms of a nervous person.
Wessel François Smith
I am a logophile. I love nearly every word.
I love the word “lilt” and “Breathtaking” in Afrikaans it is “asem rowend” it sounds lovley. One word I struggled with was “Batrachomyomachy” its meaning is a good description of what was happening when I tried pronouncing it. Afrikaans speaking ^^,
Nemises is a word I love it sounds so romantic if you loast the pass meaning.
Nemisism not so romantic. I get annoyed with “sm” it’s like “smsmsm”. Joys of afrikaans.
The word I love the most is “Tranquillity”, it sounds powerful , evil, dark and scary but its meaning is serendipitous.
In my opinion, there really aren’t any “ugly” words. I mean, words that seem ugly to one person, may be beautiful to another. Especially after reading all of the comments, I know that not all words are appealing. Some words may be appealing and have an unappealing definition, which will make somebody think that it’s ugly. That’s not completely true. Don’t let somebody tell you that a word is “ugly” just because they happen to think so, that doesn’t mean that you’re different. You like what you like, don’t let anybody’s opinion change yours.
Notice how many three-syllable words are in the beautiful lists? Human brains are respond positively to groups of three, and to a lesser extent to groups of four.
By contrast, one- and two-syllable words appear often in lists of ugly-sounding words.
With that said, the word with the most beautiful sound, in my opinion, is “axiom.”
The ugliest-sounding word, again in my opinion, is “gunk.”
And the funniest-sounding word, guaranteed to bring on giggles? “Flapdoodle.” (Again, three syllables) And that’s a fact.
If ugly equates to annoying then the constant use of “ISSUE”, as a substitute noun for almost every other noun, would have to be high on my list.
Loved the article until you asked.
What did I miss?
It’s what have I missed surely.
And Avuncular always leaves me with a nice warm feeling.
I think we need a list of beautiful words that don’t mean beautiful things. Heres a few I thought of. Sorry if my definitions are off.
Beautiful words that don’t match their meaning:
plebeian (lower class)