14 Words That Capture The Beauty And Charm Of English

What makes a word beautiful? Often, it’s a combination of factors. It might be that the word is especially fun to say, or maybe it evokes a feeling or image that is particularly pleasing. The meaning of the word itself might also be beautiful, or it could refer to a beautiful idea. And, of course, sometimes you just really like a word for reasons that can’t be entirely explained.

The author Henry James once said that summer afternoon was the most beautiful phrase in the English language. Ray Bradbury liked the word cinnamon. Tessa Hadley has expressed admiration for cochineal. Which words strike your fancy? Keep reading to learn more about 15 of the most beautiful words in English. Who knows? You might even find a new favorite.

 

Smack your lips over the “cinnamon words” of other authors, or those phrases they just can’t live without.

ephemeral

Ephemeral means “lasting a very short time; short-lived; transitory.” It’s both a lovely sounding word and one that’s frequently used to describe things that are beautiful or wonderful, but short lived.

 

  • The painter tried to capture the ephemeral beauty of the autumn leaves. 

The word comes from the Greek word ephḗmeros, meaning “short-lived, lasting but a day.” Lucky for us, the word itself has lasted much longer than that. It’s been in use in English since the late 1500s.

idyllic

If you need a word for something beautiful and quaint, idyllic is here for you. Idyllic means “suitable for or suggestive of an idyll; charmingly simple or rustic.” An idyll is a poem or prose describing pastoral or appealingly simple scenes.

 

  • She returned home to the idyllic small town where she grew up.

The word was first recorded in English in the late 1800s, though the noun form, idyll, has been in use since the 1590s. They derive from Greek eidýllion, or “a short pastoral poem.”

serendipity

How fortunate that serendipity just happens to be on this list. Serendipity is “an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.”

 

  • The pirate knew that finding the treasure would require hard work and a bit of serendipity.

This word was coined by author Horace Walpole. Serendipity is the ability possessed by the heroes of The Three Princes of Serendip, a fairytale he published in 1754. Fun fact: one of Walpole’s other stories, The Castle of Otranto, is believed to be the first Gothic novel. Seems Walpole was working with a bit of serendipity himself.

 

Writing doesn’t boil down to only a few genres like mystery and science fiction. Learn about some of the offbeat, sometimes bizarre, literary genres that you should add to your library.

gossamer

Gossamer has a lovely sound and is used to describe lovely things. It means “something extremely light, flimsy, or delicate.”

 

  • The butterfly fluttered on gossamer wings.

Gossamer was first recorded in English in the late 1200s from the Middle English gos(s)esomer or gossummer, which means “a filmy substance made of cobwebs; fine filament; something trivial.” It’s still frequently used to describe delicate spider webs, like those seen covered in dew on a crisp fall morning.

incandescent

Incandescent means “intensely bright; brilliant,” and it’s been lighting up the English language since at least 1785.

 

  • The night sky glittered with incandescent stars.

Incandescent comes from the Latin incandēscere, or “to glow.” Of course, incandescent doesn’t have to something literally glows or is intensely bright. It can also be used to describe someone or something that has a brilliant, electrifying presence.

diaphanous

With its bright long i- sound and its soft ph-, diaphanous is one of those words that just feels nice to say. Diaphanous means “very sheer and light; almost completely transparent or translucent.”

 

  • The morning sunrise glowed through the diaphanous curtains.

The word has been in use since the 17th century, and it works especially well for describing fabric or textures that are so thin and sheer they almost seem to glow with the light passing through them.

sibilance

Sibilance is one of the more pleasant-sounding words to say, and it’s used to describe sound. It means “a hissing quality of sound, or the hissing sound itself.”

 

  • I dozed in the hammock to the ocean’s gentle sibilance.

You could use this word to describe unpleasant hissing sounds, like malfunctioning electronics, or for something more beautiful, like in the example above. Plus, the word itself has a gentle hissing quality. Say it with us three times: sibilance, sibilance, sibilance. Ah, so soft and soothing.

gloaming

Gloaming is another word for “twilight; dusk,” and not only does it describe one of the most beautiful times of the day, but the word itself is also nice to say. It sounds very similar to glowing, and it has a magical quality.

 

  • We walked through the forest and watched fireflies twinkle in the gloaming.

The magical quality might have something to do with its age and origin. The word has been in use since before the year 1000, and it’s believed to be related to Old Norse glāmr, meaning “moon.”

 

As the gloaming sets in, descend into these mesmerizing summer words, perfect to enjoy on a summer evening. 

halcyon

If you’re gazing out over a tranquil lake, halcyon might be the word that comes to mind. It means “calm; peaceful; tranquil,” and this word has a fascinating origin story.

 

  • The halcyon weather made for a perfect day at the beach.

Halcyon can be traced back to the Greek halkyṓn, a variant of alkyṓn, or “kingfisher.” In Greek mythology, Alkyone, or Alcyone, is the daughter of the God of the winds, Aeolus, and she was transformed into a kingfisher after throwing herself into the sea.

ebullient

Some things are just too wonderful to be contained. Ebullient is an adjective that means “overflowing with fervor, enthusiasm, or excitement; high-spirited,” and it’s a word that practically sounds as joyful as its meaning.

 

  • The ebullient young scientist couldn’t wait to share their latest discovery.

Ebullient was first recorded in English in the late 1590s. It is associated with happiness and optimism. What’s not to love about a happy word like that?

quixotic

Quixotic is a charming word that means “extravagantly chivalrous or romantic; visionary, impractical, or impracticable.” It comes from Miguel de Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote about a noble from La Mancha, Spain, who reads so many heroic romances that he becomes obsessed with the idea of being a knight.

 

  • Her actions may seem quixotic, but they also speak to her courage and passion.

By 1644, Quixote was used to describe “a person inspired by lofty and chivalrous but impractical ideals.” By the 18th century, the derivative adjective quixotic, which applies to both persons and actions, appeared.

 

Ready for some wondrous facts about English? Look no further, read about them here.

vivacity

It’s infectious when someone has great enthusiasm and a zest for life. The word vivacity is similarly attractive. It means “liveliness; animation; sprightliness.”

 

  • The legendary Julie Andrews may be best known for her inexhaustible vivacity.

Vivacity is also a word English speakers have enjoyed for a very long time. It was first recorded in English in the 1400s.

scintilla

Scintilla doesn’t have the most beautiful meaning, but it’s certainly a satisfying and pretty word to say. The beginning syllable makes a hissing sound that is both soft and soothing, and the rest of the word seems to roll off the tongue.

 

  • We don’t have a scintilla of doubt that words are powerful.

Scintilla means “a minute particle, spark, trace.” It is a loan word from Latin, in which it means “spark.” It was first recorded in English in the late 1600s.

lilt

A lilt is a “rhythmic swing or cadence,” and the word has a soft, musical quality that matches its meaning. The origins of this word are unclear. It’s thought to come from the Middle English lulte, perhaps akin to the Dutch lul, meaning “pipe,” or lullen, “to lull.”

 

  • She spoke with a soft Southern lilt that put me at ease.

Lilt first appeared in English as early as 1300, and we’ve been swaying along ever since.

Take our quiz!

Ready for the pop quiz? If you need a little more preparation, check out our word list. You can study the definitions and spelling for these terms using flashcards, spelling tests, and more. When you’re ready, head to our quiz to test your knowledge of these beautiful English words and see how many you’ve learned.

 

If you breezed through our quiz, you might enjoy this discussion on the difference between breezy, blustery, and windy.