Word Attraction

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Over the years, several LL posts have documented the irrational aversion that people sometimes feel to certain words — a strong negative reation that is apparently not related to the meaning, or to any alleged fault in grammar or usage, but to the sound or feel of the word itself. (See the links in "Moist aversion: the cartoon version", 8/27/2008, for a review of this strange phenomenon.)

I've been meaning for some time to take up the question of whether there's a positive counterpart to word aversion, an irrational lexical exuberance that we might call "word attraction". To that end, I've been saving up Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur for 11/28/2005, where Danae & Joe exhibit a candidate behavior:

We can find some other possible examples by searching the web for a string like "my new favorite word is": netizens proclaim their delight in bat shit, elopment, oniomaniac, electrochemiluminescence, heinous, wowsers, zombieconomy, wanderlust, swussy, awkward, schnitzel, earmark, sub-Turing, trajectory, enfluffen, defenestration, upcycle, Baracknophobia, toevage, buffoonery, chamfering, bomblet, poppy crop, flotilla, and so on.

These positive reactions are of course diverse — some do involve irrational attraction to the sound or feel of a word or phrase, but many involve pleasure in a clever coinage, or a newly-discovered word with a meaning perceived as useful. In any case, these reactions rarely  seem to have the intense, sustained, long-term focus of the previously-documented cases of word aversion. In comparison, the positive feelings of word attraction usually seem fickle and evanescent.

Furthermore, the candidates for "word attraction" mostly seem to be oriented towards the pleasures of production, along the lines of "I love the way it feels to say ___", whereas most of the "word aversion" cases seem to be symmetrical between production and perception.

Here are some web examples.

OK, don't judge me by my favorite word. It's concubine. I don't love it for it's meaning just the way it sounds. It's a really fun word to say. Porcupine might be my second fav but it's just not as fun as concubine. Growing up I went to christian school so I would find anyway possible to talk about concubines in Bible class just so I could say the word. It just makes me smile =)

My favorite word is discombobulated. There are so many different sounds and I love the way it feels to say the word. Weird I know, but it's my favorite!

Defenestration. Yep it has some ugly historical connotations, but the word itself is glorious. Perhaps because fenestra (latin for window) is such a gorgeous word and throwing things out if windows (when they aren't people, that is) seems like such a frivolously lovely pursuit. I wish I lived in a tall cylindrical tower dotted with bubble glass windows. Then I could defenestrate flower petals, bird seed, prayer flags, feathers, vegetable cuttings, and yes, perhaps even lemongrass seaweed with considerable panache.

Hedgehog! I love the sound, the arrangement of consonants, the accidental alliteration. I also love the word hedge on its own but the word hedgehog truly rules – in fact, I wish it were my last name! Then I could roll through life like a true champion of the forest and not worry about my feet getting dirty. Glorious!

Persimmon – I love the way it forms on my lips, and I always smile. I work for a horticulture publication and every spring/summer I look forward to meetings because invariably it comes up.

How on earth could I pick just one favorite word?! I used to love the word "torque". Sounds tough. I also love "breathe" and "hope". I say "fabulous" all the time. And if I get the word "diverticulitous" stuck in my head, it will be there for days. I'm sure I spelled it wrong.

Wakarusa. It is the name of a street in a neighboring city and everytime I see it and/or say it it makes me smile!

I think I like the word Kumquat the best. Say it. See, wasn't that fun? I don't even necessarily care for kumquats, but I sure do enjoy the word! Seriously, say it.

I would have said this was a tautology, mostly because I really like the way that word sounds, but then I looked up the word the other day and found I wasn't always using it correctly. This may or may not be one of those situations. Possibly both.

Crisp. I love the different meanings of it: crisp air, a crisp apple, crisp sheets. I love the onomatopoeia of it. I love how it feels to say it, the s and then the quick coming together of the lips on the p. It has long been my favorite word.

lucy_anne: So what is your favorite word?
janni: Atlatl. Because it's so much fun to say. :-)
lucy_anne: I'd heard a rumour that you did enjoy saying that word.  Repeatedly. Unfortunately it was difficult to make out because of all the other people saying Atlatl. ^_^ (Personally, I like the word "fondant." Pliable stuff you put on pastries to turn them into just about anything in the world. Like play doh for cakes)

From my veranda (boy I enjoy saying that word, "veranda") I can see about four miles away a grove of white or black oaks

"Monongahela" I have no Idea but I really enjoy saying that word

It seems they have a personal vendetta (I enjoy saying that word) ;) against MSN and his movie.

I haven't found any positive equivalents of moist, which is often enough disliked to have its own haters group on facebook, but plethora and plinth each seem to have a few fans. The Wordie page for plinth includes these comments:

Plinth. I just love saying this word. Plinth. Plinth. Plinth.

This is scary, reesetee. I was just thinking "plinth, I love saying that word". I went to put it on my list of favorites and what do I find? "Plinth. Plinth. Plinth." Indeed!

Someone told me this was the sexiest word a woman could say, and I subsequently realised she was right. When you say plinth, your lips first press together gently, then part; the tongue peeks seductively out from under the teeth, then the ‘th’ sound is softly breathed through the invitingly open lips.

Wow, an earworm that isn't a song…

And there are a few positive reactions to plethora out there, for instance:

Plethora. I remember the first time I learned this word, and boy did I over use it! haha! Everything was plethora, "I need a plethora of sleep." I just like it.

Plethora. I just like the way the pl combination feels in my mouth! Always have

In an earlier post ("Ask Language Log: The moist panties phenomenon", 8/20/2007), I cited examples of people using word aversion to tease their friends:

gwbjdk: The word Crudd (sp?), in place of dirt, and the word Chunks. It just sounds so gross. My husband will use them sometimes, just to see me give that yucky face I always give when hearing them.

Chrissy341: I don't really have any, but my sister hates the words moist and the word panties (not together lol). So whenever I have cake I always tell her how moist it is so #1 she grimices (sp?) and #2 more cake for me!!!

ladykatya: My sister also hates the words 'moist' and 'panties'. I, however, find it HILARIOUS to walk behind her at the mall whispering over and over "moist panties. moist panties. moist panties". She turns this lovely shade of red as she gets more upset with me. ;)

I can't imagine a man teasing his wife by saying "schnitzel" and "enfluffen" just to watch her smile; or a young woman repeatedly whispering "poppy crop" or "plinth" to make her sister melt ecstatically in the mall.

The closest web examples that I've found:

Pamplemousse – it's french for grapefruit. Someday I will come up with a small side business concept and that will be what I call it. I just love the way it sounds. The first time I heard it I was hooked. After that my husband jokingly called me his 'petit pamplemousse' and I try to encourage this at all times. Doesn't always work, but it does always make me smile.

TOP TEN: Questions to Ask Yourself Before Voting For Schwarzenegger – he has a double-digit lead against Democratic challenger Phil Angelides going into the California Gubernatorial Election. I purposely typed in "Gubernatorial" thinking Dave would enjoy saying that word. I was right. There's something about the word "gubernatorial" that's fun to say. Dave enjoyed saying "Gubernatorial."

And I did find one example of lexical group glee:

My favourite word is Ouaouaron (pronounced wa-wa-ron), being Acadian French for bullfrog. The word is rooted in Canadian Iroquois, but when said with a French Canadian accent it sounds exactly like a bullfrog. When I was little, we used to chase after the frogs, regardless of what kind they were, yelling "Ouaouaron! Come back Ouaouaron!", and then rolling down the hills laughing.

If you know any cases where specific words reliably trigger intense positive emotions both in production and in perception, not because of what they mean but merely by virtue of the way they sound or feel, please let us know.


  1. A. Okrent said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 6:55 am

    This brings to mind Tolkien's comments on his feelings for Welsh: “Most English-speaking people, for instance, will admit that cellar door is ‘beautiful,’ especially if dissociated from its sense (and its spelling). More beautiful than, say, sky, and far more beautiful than beautiful. Well then, in Welsh for me cellar doors are extraordinarily frequent.”

  2. fogeyman said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 7:14 am

    Try this on for size: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uuCNAwXGaQ.

    It's animation placede over a radio skit by a group called The Vestibules.

  3. Sarah Currier said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 7:18 am

    Here's a great example of a couple using words they love to re-invigorate their relationship. Sure, it's fictional characters (Mo and Sydney from Alison Bechdel's classic comic strip) but a lot of her readers, including me, related strongly to this tale of word-nerd love:


  4. Amy Stoller said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 8:09 am

    Word combinations i have loved:

    Lady Jane Grey
    sanguinary lycanthrope

  5. language hat said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 8:37 am

    "Actually, I just like to say smock. Smock smock smock smock smock smock."

    (Alas, I can't find an image of the actual comic, but the quote is classic.)

    [(myl) Here it is:

    I should have remembered this one as well. ]

  6. [links] Link salad goes on a diet of clears | jlake.com said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 8:49 am

    […] Language Log on "word attraction" — Is there an opposite to "moist"? […]

  7. Steve said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 9:13 am

    I remember once using the word 'ambivalence' to someone who responded with 'What a lovely word – ambivalence! I'll tell you another lovely word – ambience!' I managed to bite my tongue before enquiring if she was also enamoured of the word 'ambulence', but I suspect the answer would have been negative. I would guess that sound alone causes people to like a word only when the meaning can be kept at a 'safe distance' (as with 'plethora' and 'gubernatorial' as well as 'ambivalence' and 'ambience') but not when the word immediately brings a strong image of an object to mind, as with 'ambulence'. For most of us, I suspect, 'ambulence' is a thing more strongly than it is a word, and therefore is not subject to such aesthetic reactions.

    On word aversion, I remember thinking the last time this topic came up that the common female distaste for the word 'moist' must be a strange irrationality about words with slight sexual connotations that the male sex was immune to, when I suddenly remembered that I don't particularly care for the word 'flaccid'. I suspect I'm not the only man with this aversion.

    By the way, Stephen Fry seems to be one person who likes the word 'moist' – he uses it a lot.

  8. Jim Fowler said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 9:15 am

    It's not a comic, but a piece from Dr. Demento:


    [(myl) Earlier in the comments, fogeyman pointed us to an animated version of this skit on YouTube. It's nice to have the script as well. ]

  9. Aaron Davies said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 9:19 am

    my girlfriend is very fond of "zinc".

  10. Thomas Westgard said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 9:26 am

    I am particularly attached to:

    banana hasenpfeffer (as a phrase)

    This is probably cheating, but I cringe at the thought of:


  11. Garrett Wollman said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 9:50 am

    "Plinth" reminds me of the great indescribably British radio show "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue". Two of the games involve the players naming random words in turn, and "plinth" invariably comes up. If I were a better fan, I'd know which panelist's favorite word it was.

    [(myl) In an interesting case of cross-thread synchronicity, the host of that show was Humphrey Lyttelton, the great great(?) grandson of the author of Contributions towards a glossary of the Glynne language, by a student.]

  12. Ray Girvan said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 9:51 am

    This is getting very woody vs tinny.

    [(myl) Yes — see "Don't say tin to Rebecca, you know how it upsets her", 8/20/2007, where the Knight of Ni's aversion to "it" was also noted, as well as the fact that you're not supposed to say "mattress" to Mr. Lambert. ]

  13. Luke Gibson said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 9:56 am

    Since I was in school, my favourite phrase to say has consistently been:

    aggregate fluctuation of dissipation

    but I also have a soft spot for:

    Sri Lanka

    …which reminds me of a Lemon Jelly song–Ramblin' Man from the album Lost Horizons–the second half of which consists of a large list of interesting place names being read out. It's genuinely lovely, I highly recommend a listen!

  14. Andrew Dowd said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 9:57 am

    This reminds me of the old Monty Python sketch where words were divided into "woody" and "tinny" words.


  15. aforsyth said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 10:20 am




  16. Wordnut said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 10:22 am

    Don't forget T.J. on the cartoon "Recess." Whenever a situation was pleasing to him, perhaps in the way a semi-delinquent would like it, he would say, "Moist," as if he could almost taste it.

  17. Simon Cauchi said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 10:44 am

    I'm rather fond of some of Max Beerbohm's coinages, such as "inenubilable" and "ventrirotund". By the way, does anyone know who Beerbohm meant when he wrote that "there is one [poet] who describes, with accuracy and gusto, the insides of engines"?

  18. Jonathan Lundell said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 10:49 am

    Celadon. Jacaranda.

    (I have an aunt with a strong aversion to "belly".)

  19. Devon Strolovitch said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 10:50 am

    "Oligopoly", with penultimate stress.

  20. m said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 11:08 am

    I thought I loved the blossoms, but the post makes me realize I love the word "jacaranda" too. Or maybe both the flower and the word. Anyway "jacaranda" does run through my mind sometimes, and used to do so before I knew what they looked like.

    My granddaughter seems to love the word "spatula." Yesterday she said "I love spatulas. Thank you for using one." I heard of another instance of spatula love long ago.

  21. Dan T. said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 11:21 am

    Celador is the production company behind Who Wants to Be a Millionaire; their name is pretty similar to "cellar door", especially in non-rhotic dialects.

  22. Tom said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 11:35 am

    Serendipity is regularly chosen as the UK's "favourite word", which I think is as much for its sound and 'mouthfeel' as its quite attractive meaning.

    (Oh, and I have the feeling 'plinth' is regularly used by Tim Brooke-Taylor on ISIHAC, though I'm not 100% sure)

  23. Andy Hollandbeck said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 11:39 am

    This could go either way for some, depending on how hungry one is, but I like that the word masticate both feels and sounds like chewing food with your mouth open.

    Self-defining onomatopoeic words always make me happy because they seem to have a more solid, less abstract link to the real, physical world. Susurrus and tintinnabulation are my favorites.

  24. John Doe said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 11:43 am

    Silent consonants can kill

  25. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 11:45 am

    The comic Léonard had one strip about inherently funny words. It went smoothly until the assistant shouted the given name of his employer as one of the funny words in question.

  26. Private Zydeco said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 12:07 pm

    One can but hope that it will not profane the distinct
    undercurrent of jollity coursing through this latemost
    lexical-affinity related posting, nor, likewise, the many
    comments that it has enticed a populous subscribing
    audience into submitting, to soberly re-direct the pre–
    sent discourse to the forerunning topic of pronounced
    lexical aversion once again, but one notably poignant
    example of a revulsion-reaction elicited from a hearer
    upon the invocation of a specific word (which example
    also happens to have interspecial relevance) seems to
    have hitherto received attention neither from any of the
    brass-hats and other functionaries of the Language Log
    consortium proper, nor any one among the convocation
    of subalterns, adherents, regular readers and assorted
    web-riffle, which sorely needs bringing up. The utterly
    invaluable archive footage linked to here
    illustrates but
    one occurence of this phenomenon in what was to be
    observed as an episodic cycle of sorts at the time of its
    documenting. Submitted for the consideration of all and

  27. Eric B said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 12:11 pm

    In French my favourite words are 'semblable', and 'quincaillerie'. And have you ever got a beginner English speaker to try and say 'crisps'? It's hilarious!

  28. Philip Spaelti said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 12:11 pm

    I figure that a similar sentiment was the basis for the "plethora of piñatas" scene from ¡Three Amigos!

  29. Eli said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

    I've always really liked saying "ghoulish". Ghoulish, ghoulish, ghoulish. Also "aplomb". Has anyone noticed anything defining about these "attractive" words.

  30. rpsms said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

    favorite: infundibulum

    I know someone who will be in stitches at the mere suggestion that the word "schnuckle" is about to be uttered. I understand it is the last name of a person spotted in some random movie credits.

    I have a personal list of "fingernails on chalkboard" words which includes:


  31. Jonathan Lundell said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

    Back to myl's request, though, for "any cases where specific words reliably trigger intense positive emotions both in production and in perception". I'd have thought that these cases, positive or negative, are largely idiosyncratic, though perhaps with tendencies in one direction or another.

    I cited "celadon" as a favorite, but I never saw the attraction of "cellar door". I was thinking that the difference might involve the referents, but it just occurred to me that Tolkien's pronunciation of "cellar door" would have been quite different from my double-rhotic production.

  32. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

    My two favorites are "yam" and "fungible".

    In concordance with what several have stated, my wife hates "moist" and "panties", and also "squat" and "pile".

  33. Steve said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

    So struck was I (in my comment above) by the similar sound of 'ambivalence', 'ambience' and 'ambulance' that I seem to have momentarily forgotten how to spell 'ambulance'. I don't think it affects my point that it is usually euphony rather than meaning that provokes word attraction, and that it is therefore more likely with words of more abstract connotation than with concrete nouns.

    And am I the only male who doesn't care for 'flaccid'? Maybe I've got a bigger problem than I thought.

  34. Jon Lennox said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 12:53 pm

    Googling "IHNJ, IJLTS" might be revealing as well.

  35. John said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

    I consider "ombudsman" one of the ugliest words.

    Some of my favorites, though:
    – Ineffable
    – Idiosyncrasy
    – Effluvia

  36. Nigel Greenwood said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

    Often these are mere verbal tics: for example, Stephen Jay Gould's repeated use of the word "maximally" (frequency count, anyone?). Was it the resemblance to "maxillary", I wonder?

    For a nice illustration of word-preference actually spoiling one's pleasure, see this New Yorker cartoon:


  37. Toma said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 12:56 pm

    I like to say radicchio.

  38. Andy Hollandbeck said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 1:08 pm

    John: Worse than ombudsman is "ombudsperson," used in an attempt to be politically correct. Thankfully, most people are now just stopping with "ombud" — which sounds like something that character from Fat Albert (was it Mush Mouth?) would say.

  39. Mark F. said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

    I've commented before that I think some proper nouns are that way, and that "Barack Obama" is such a name. I haven't heard anybody explicitly say they like to say it, but people just seem to have more fun saying it than more familiar names.

  40. Eric Stevenson said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 1:24 pm

    People who hate "Moist Snack" group on Facebook

  41. Y said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

    There's a bunch of words much loved by the writers of restaurant menus, but which make my skin crawl: 'slather', 'warm', 'drizzled', and of course 'moist'. Martha Stewart is said to pronounce the h in 'herb'.

    Some people think everyone must love muzak. Some people think everyone must love words with lots of liquids and dipthongs and no affricates. That said, I am partial to étoufée, the word and the food.

    Only lower-class and hippie establishments use 'scrumptious'.

  42. Kimberly Belcher said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 1:58 pm

    Comments by A. Okrent and Jonathan Lundell made me think about invented languages, like Tolkien's (and perhaps Klingon?). Presumably phonetic choices for these languages were in part (or wholly?) dictated by authors' personal likes and dislikes of sound (for example, Tolkien obviously loved "el" and hated "gor").

    These might be a good candidate for phonic word-love, since the sounds aren't intrinsically connected to meanings that the reader knows. And what about second-language word-love? I know I've found words in a new language attractive before I knew what they meant.

  43. boron110 said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 2:02 pm

    My favorites since childhood:


  44. dr pepper said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

    Hmm, i can't think of any words that i find exceptional delight in, but there are many that i like more than average. Allosaurus, celstine, jerimander, to name just 3.

    I also like certain word combinations for their metrical feel. "Anderson Cooper 360" makes me want to come up with a limerick.

    Oh, and i just found a new one: "Private Zydeco". Cool handle, is there actually a song?

  45. Fluxor said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

    Two of my fun words from childhood: dégueulasse, oohlala

  46. Jack Richards said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

    Not to be crude, but my absolute favorite word is "motherfucker." It's everything a swear word should be. It's angrily poetic. I probably overuse it.

    "Discombobulated" is a fun one. I learned that in the third grade and have cherished it since.



  47. Jack Richards said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 2:56 pm

    Whoops, sorry for the double post, but I just thought of something. I like just about any word that has a similar meter to "speedometer."

    Aristophanes (and the similar Aristocracy, but NOT Aristocrat.)

  48. david said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

    "By the way, Stephen Fry seems to be one person who likes the word 'moist' – he uses it a lot."

    Fry also once said on TV (maybe on room 101?) that his favourite words were 'plinth' and 'tmesis'. And he seems to have started a facebook discussion about favourite words:


  49. Alan Palmer said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

    I love "sesquipedalian". It's fun to say, it describes the target word beautifully, and is of course self-referential. In case you've not come across the word, it is used to describe long, polysyllabic words. It means, literally, "A foot and a half long".

  50. fiona hanington said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

    I like:

    breath / breathe

    Also, only because of how it looks when written in cursive (try it!):

  51. erica said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

    I really like saying the word "pants." preferably very loudly and for no apparent reason.

    but I really dislike the word "panties."

    also, the word "networking" always raises my hackles, but I think that's more on account of the meaning than the sound.

    on a related note, "hackles" is another word I like.

  52. erica said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 3:20 pm

    fiona: 'communism' is another fun one to write in cursive, for similar reasons.

  53. fiona hanington said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 3:20 pm



    Thanks to Martin Gardiner for introducing me to these paper creations (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flexagon). Fun to say; fun to make.

  54. Bob Ray said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

    I've always loved the phrase "benign and salubrious." It's especially satisfying to say when either drunk or imitating drunken speech.

    I have no problem with "moist" but I cringe every time I hear or read the word "glitch." Am I the only one who hates this word?

  55. Faith said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

    I thought we were supposed to be coming up with words generally well-liked, but if we're all going to list our favourite words instead I am not missing out on the fun.

    In English I like (eating and) saying gazpacho and ratatouille. I think it is particularly because they are imports: I like how unexpected the sounds are in English.

    In Yiddish I like "veter-novi" and "zaverukhe" (apologies for the transliteration–I'm away from my Yiddish fonts at the moment). "Veter-novi" means weather man and I like the discord between the modernity of the meaning and the incorporation of the Biblical word for "prophet." "Zaverukhe" means snowstorm and I think I find the word itself a bit stormy.

    Back to the actual question, I am somehow under the impression that many people like the word "dusk."

  56. Ray Girvan said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

    Kimberly Belcher: invented languages, like Tolkien's

    I think it's pretty well-documented that Tolkien's Quenya was inspired by a liking for the sound of Finnish, that a lot of listeners find very lyrical (see Are High Elves Finno-Ugric?).

  57. Clarissa said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 3:53 pm

    After we started watching The Mighty Boosh my husband noted that the nonsense word "boosh!" was glee-inducing to say and hear. He kept saying it for fun–"boosh! boosh!" (I kind of like "fish!" for similar reasons, and from a certain episode of Red Dwarf I suspect it's not just me.) I ran across an interview in which Noel Fielding mentioned that a lot of people seem to find "boosh" enjoyable to say.

  58. lynneguist said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 4:51 pm

    My 10th and 12th grade English teacher taught us that it was a FACT that superfluous is the most beautiful word in the English language.

    But I'm quite partial to stonking.

  59. Craig said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 5:06 pm

    My favorite's definitely copacetic, a word you don't hear often enough.

  60. Wordnut said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 5:09 pm

    I have always liked "grandiloquent." It sounds like a compliment but it's not. I have often been tempted to tell someone pleasantly, " Why, you are so grandiloquent today!" and see if they don't thank me.

  61. Thierry Fontenelle said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 5:11 pm

    Interesting post… I recently blogged about my favorite French word, chef-d’œuvre. That “word attraction” is not related to the pleasures of production, however, it’s seen from a natural language processing perspective… ;-)



  62. Nate said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 5:19 pm


    is the winner for me. I also enjoy 'clandestine' and 'sly' but find both harder to force into casual conversation.

  63. mytacist said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 5:19 pm

    In addition to the many, many favorite words I've had over the years for various reasons–my username here included–this article reminds me of the one instance I've experienced of "group glee" over the sound of a word. When I was around seven, my best friend and I had two words that we would say over and over, cracking up every time. The words were "Wisconsin" and "arteries." I'm not sure whether we liked them because of a certain songlike emphasis we added to them–with "Wisconsin," we turned the first syllable into a schwa, and prolonged the third; with "arteries," we put the stress on the last syllable and made the pitch higher than that of the rest of the word. But I think these changes were meant to increase the shout-ability of the words, rather than to make them enjoyable in the first place. Either way, we spent a lot of time on the swingset yelling them out. Her little brother enjoyed them just as much, even though they couldn't have had any meaning yet to him.

    I also seem to remember several classmates in my sixth-grade class who loved the word "kumquat," and would shout it out loud to provoke laughter from the rest of us.

  64. mollymooly said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 5:54 pm

    A Collection of Word Oddities and Trivia, Page 10: BEAUTIFUL (AND NOT-SO-BEAUTIFUL) WORDS

    Festschrift, automaticamente, balalaika, Sehnsucht, Lindenblumen, alas

    Skeheenarinky, Gaprindashvili

    long words are real cool.

  65. Morten Jonsson said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

    It's not a term I use a lot, but I do enjoy hearing the Midwestern voice at the Merriam-Webster website pronounce "protonotary apostolic."

  66. Junie said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

    Ouagadougou (wa-gah-doo-goo) – the capital of Burkina Faso (also a nice one). It sounds so nice with all those OUs

    Hellacious. It has so many different meanings – good, bad, difficult, powerful, violent, large. It's a superlative and great for hyperbole.

  67. Erin Jonaitis said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 6:11 pm

    To add to the developmental angle, my parents tell me that when I was about a year old, I giggled endlessly at the word "geranium." Since humor is often about foiled expectations, Faith's hypothesis about unusual sound combinations sounds right to me. If that were the case, you wouldn't expect too much regularity because for any given low rate of occurrence there are a ton of options.

  68. John Lawler said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 6:14 pm

    My own favorite (among many, quite a few of which have already shown up here) is cahoots, which has almost turned into 1/3 of a compound preposition, in cahoots with.

    I've also frequently been amused by Jack Vance's story about the naming of the 26 planets of the Rigel Concourse, from the first novel (The Star King) of his "Demon Princes" SF series. Here's the relevant passage, courtesy of http://www.plover.com/misc/concourse:

    The Rigel Concourse is Sir Julian's most noteworthy discovery: twenty-six magnificent planets, most of them not only habitable but salubrious, though only two display even quasi-intelligent autochthones . . . . Sir Julian, exercising his prerogatives, named the planets for boyhood heroes: Lord Kitchener, William Gladstone, Archbishop Rollo Gore, Edythe Macdevott, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Carlyle, William Kircudbright, Samuel B. Gorsham, Sir Robert Peel, and the like.

    But Sir Julian was to be deprived of his privilege. He telegraphed ahead the news of his return to Maudley Space Station, together with a description of the Concourse and the names he had bestowed upon the members of this magnificent group. The list passed through the hands of an obscure young clerk, one Roger Pilgham, who rejected Sir Julian's nominations in disgust. To each of the twenty-six planets he assigned a letter of the alphabet and hurriedly supplied new names:

    Alphanor, Barleycorn, Chrysanthe, Diogenes, Elfland, Fiame, Goshen, Hardacres, Image, Jezebel, Krokinole, Lyonnesse, Madagascar, Nowhere, Olliphane, Pilgham, Quinine, Raratonga, Somewhere, Tantamount, Unicorn, Valisande, Walpurgis, Xion, Ys, and Zaracanda

    — the names derived from legend, myth, romance, his own whimsy. One of the worlds was accompanied by a satellite, described in the dispatch as "an eccentric, tumbling, odd-shaped fragment of chondritic pumice," and this Roger Pilgham named "Sir Julian."

  69. Isabeau said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 6:44 pm

    Sodium acetylsalicylate, followed closely by acetylsalicylic acid.

  70. Ann Davie said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 6:59 pm

    My grandmother, who was a surgical nurse and could no doubt recount all sorts of horror stories, used to hate the word "guts". Being terribly cheeky grandkids, we used to say it frequently just for her reaction.

    As a child, I once forgot how to pronounce "scissors" properly. I'd think of the word or read it and panic because I couldn't remember if it was pronounced with a "sk". I know that's weird. But still to this day, I sometimes stop and think about it.

    In a 7th grade English class one of my schoolmates was enamoured with the word "verdant" and would talk about verdant frogs and verdant cordials, etc.

    Then there are some words that I've always sounded a bit opposite to what they really mean – loathe, dearth come to mind.

  71. Estel said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 7:40 pm

    When I was younger, I used to think that "muffinpapers!" would be a great thing to exclaim when irritated – for no semantic reason whatsoever; the sound just seemed to fit the context. Actually, I still think "Oh, muffinpapers!" would be a satisfying thing to shout in an annoying situation… but it would puzzle people and require explaining, so I don't.

  72. Noetica said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 8:31 pm

    … the common female distaste for the word 'moist' … when I suddenly remembered that I don't particularly care for the word 'flaccid'.

    But the asymmetry remains. One aversive word suggests a kind of readiness and excitement, and the other its lack.

    For me there are too many mots dégueulasses to list, though I must single out thus and whilst. Too many transcendentally lovely words, also. James Joyce famously acclaimed cuspidor as the most beautiful word in the language. (Has anyone got a primary source for that?) I find it revolting, even apart from its meaning.

    I do have a special aversion to any word pronounced with a sibilant "improperly" voiced: exit, exile, even accelerate, pronounced with /gz/; business, with /z/ at the end (common on Australian ABC radio). Also flaccid and succinct with /s/ replacing /ks/. I also have to avert my ears when I hear excessive degradation into schwas, in a certain British way. Like metaphor, with /ˈmɛtɘfɘ/ given as the first option in SOED.

    That said, I say version (and aversion, etc.) with /ʒn/ at the end. So do just about all Australians; but British – certainly SOED – ends them all in /ʃn/. I am thinking of making the shift, since the psychophonological dissonance is hard to bear. M-W dictionaries allow both but give /ʒn/ first. And equation is a worry.

  73. Katherine said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

    Fruition. Anything that starts with "fruit" but where the t isn't a hard sound sounds wonderful to me. But I agree with a lot of the previous suggestions, reading the comments has melted my mind a little. Thinking my way through the list felt to my mind as velvet feels to my skin.

    Mmm, fruition. Sounds tasty.

  74. Greg said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 1:21 am

    Fufluns Pachie, an Etruscan god.


  75. Robert said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 5:44 am

    I like the word lewd. Specifically, I prefer it pronounced [lju:d] to [lu:d], the first is just more expressive. I'm also partial to the word fatuous, and its corresponding noun, fatuity.

  76. Aaron Davies said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 8:42 am

    @m: perhaps you're thinking of weird al's spatula city?

  77. Aaron Davies said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 8:45 am

    my little brother used to have a thing about the (relatively) made-up word "picklepuss" (which i suppose must have originally meant "sour-face", but has completely lost all trace of that in my memory): whenever my sister or i uttered it, he would take it as a signal to start a tickle fight.

  78. Eyebrows McGee said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 9:16 am

    "Roasty Toasty"

    It's so much fun to say! I used to nanny for a two-year-old who I once offered some pizza with the warning to "be careful, it's roasty toasty!" He thought this was so awesome he demanded all future food be in a "roasty toasty" state and chanted "roasty toasty" over and over while eating.

  79. Stephen Jones said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

    I once came across in a Thomas Mann story the word 'Wachtmeisterschnurrbart', 'A sergeant-major-like moustache', and still remember it years later even though my German is minimal. The joys of compounding!

  80. Alta said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 3:33 pm




    I blogged about this last December after hearing Roy Blount Jr. on NPR plugging his new book. If interested, check it out here.

  81. Adrian Mander said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

    On the topic of aversion to restaurant-server-speak, I dislike "appy" and "bevvy".

  82. Isabeau said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

    I only wish "Little old lady got mutilated late last night" meant something less psychopathic.

  83. Private Zydeco said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 7:28 pm

    A song does exist, so to speak, but penned by the B-52's,
    the title of which includes the words "Private Idaho", "Private
    Zydeco" being, of course, a rhyme-in-parody.

  84. Alexis said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 10:54 pm

    I have a long-term attachment to the word "persnickety".

  85. Bryan D said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 11:57 pm

    I must say I like moist because I know so many people who cringe at it.

    I'm also rather fond of indolent and insolent. Partially because they sound, to me, to exact a certain precision that their synonyms lack.

  86. Chocolate Tort said,

    May 15, 2009 @ 12:32 am

    Someone already said "lascivious," which is one of my favorites, but I think my all-time favorite word is "chagrin." I have no idea why this should be.

  87. Brian said,

    May 15, 2009 @ 3:35 am

    One of my personal favorites is "psychic", for various reasons I won't really get into.

    Some more recent favorites I've discovered: when I'm insulting someone, I find it much more satisfying than standard swear-fare to call them a "jackal" or a "swine". "Jackal" because it starts off like the overused "jackass" only to reference a different, more insulting animal. "Swine" just contorts the speaker's face into a suitably disgusted expression and its refusal to roll off the tongue makes it draw out and become a punctuation to a thoroughly satisfying epithet. Shame swine flu added a layer of meaning to it– I liked it the way it was.

    I also experimented with "muck and mire" as an all-purpose swearphrase as a replacement for the cliche "dammit". Rhyming with the F-word helps a lot there.

  88. Colin John said,

    May 15, 2009 @ 5:13 am

    'Gloaming' must be near the top, though I do also like the earlier suggestion of 'Ouagadougou'.

  89. Leo Spaceman said,

    May 15, 2009 @ 6:18 am

    On 30 Rock – "kidney".

  90. Yuval said,

    May 15, 2009 @ 7:03 am

    More French grapefruit:

  91. Walrus Evens said,

    May 15, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

    For a euphonic string of sonorants
    between sibilants
    try "salivary amylase"

  92. Billare said,

    May 15, 2009 @ 9:05 pm

    One of my favorite words is "discombobulated" too! There is a bounciness to it that makes the meaning identify with the word! It's also just fun to say.

    Another favorite word of mine "lumpenproletariat". I think it's the "lumpen" part, I really can't analyze that word well.

    Another favorite is "Weltanschauung". I think it's hilarious that a word that seems to have such a general meaning is so incredibly long.

  93. Bob Ray said,

    May 16, 2009 @ 12:32 am

    The mention of copacetic reminds me that it's the only commonly used word I know of with the etymology: "origin unknown."

  94. David said,

    May 16, 2009 @ 1:18 am

    I'm a heterosexual man who does not speak Spanish, but just give me an opportunity to shout, "Antonio Banderas!" …

  95. marie-lucie said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 7:25 am

    chagrin, Lumpenproletariat, Weltanschauung, pamplemousse: good old English words all?

    BR, copacetic is a commonly used word? I had never even seen it before this.

    Noetica: mots dégueulasses: I find this a little strong for 'distasteful words'. Dégueuler is 'to upchuck' ('vomit' in more formal contexts).

  96. Noetica said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 9:45 pm


    mots dégueulasses: I find this a little strong for 'distasteful words'.

    I chose the expression with care and full awareness of the connotations. The rebarbative words in question issue from the mouth (la gueule, "the gob") as when one vomits (on dégueule). I sought to soften the thought by resorting to French. But for you: sorry about that! And I include vomir (with cognates), dégueulasse, and incidentally merde, as "distasteful words", even without considering their meanings.

    I should make amends for straying from the topic of this thread. Just one favourite then, but with analysis:


    Lovely! An exquisitely balanced word, especially in its original Italian pronunciation. The clean, well-defined play of sameness and difference: stresses (CHIA-ro-SCU-ro); syllable types (1 x chia, 1 x scu, 2 x ro); phonemes (/k/, /r/, and /o/ occur twice, and /j/, /a/, /u/, and /s/ occur once). The sturdy resistance to schwa-degradation. The darkness of the back vowels set against the lightness of the consonants, including /j/.

    So the sound echoes the meaning. Originally, a mix of light and dark in a painting, historically without colour (OED: "1. The style of pictorial art in which only the light and shade, and not the various colours, are represented; black-and-white, or dark brown and white. Obs.") but later including coloured depiction. And then in more figurative senses (OED: "The effect of light and shade in nature, e.g. in a landscape"; "Used of poetic or literary treatment, criticism, mental complexion, etc., in various obvious senses, as mingled 'clearness and obscurity', 'cheerfulness and gloom', 'praise and blame,' etc."; "Partly revealed and partly veiled").

    So trenchant and fundamental a word, suggesting the first binary yin-yang cuts we make in our apprehension and indeed perception of the world – in dividing it for description and analysis, away from the clutter of specificity. Transcendent (itself a sublime word); pointing beyond.

    Since you ask, Mark.

  97. Hannah said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 2:45 am

    I'd like to second effluvia, and to third Ouagadougou.

  98. Simon Cauchi said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 5:28 am

    @ Bob Ray: The mention of copacetic reminds me that it's the only commonly used word I know of with the etymology: "origin unknown."

    Is "copacetic" really a commonly used word? I'd never seen it before reading it here. And I can think of lots of much commoner words whose origins are unknown, e.g. dog, nag (meaning horse), bum (meaning backside), hooley, pry . . .

  99. Simon Cauchi said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 5:37 am

    @Noetica: "chiaroscuro" is an example of — guess what — oxymoron, another lovely word. Light-dark. Sharp-dull.

  100. Joan said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 5:49 am

    British stand-up comedian John Fealey once did a routine about bagging vegetables in a Dutch supermarket, devoting considerable attention to the sheer sexiness of the Dutch word "zakje" (zahk-yah – the diminutive form of "bag"):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXkTGiF9bU4 (starts about 3 minutes in)

    Me, I'm very partial to the general effect of assonance in bisyllabic Dutch words (schuifpui, asbak, wegdek, praatpaal), and I distinctly remember gushing to someone about "bewildered" earlier this week.

    The ultimate in word attraction to me, however, is German. Dazzling, affix-encrusted compounds, affricates both labiodental and alveolar gracing the humblest of monosyllables – what's not to love?

  101. Charly said,

    May 19, 2009 @ 7:59 pm

    I, too, am fond of pamplemousse and gubernatorial.

    The way the mice say Assepoesje in this clip*, with its delectable palatalization, is endlessly amusing. Haast je, haast je, haast je, haast je is infinitely more agreeable than "haste ye."

    A word I don't like is krach . . . the French word for "crash." So icky. I think I dislike it because it's masquerading as German, and then you hear it, and feel duped.

    Alouette, Saint-Saëns, grenouille, or croque-monsieur are all French words whose sounds are fun to produce!


  102. Etienne said,

    May 22, 2009 @ 11:47 am

    An etymological nitpick: OUAOUARON is indeed found in Acadian French, but the term is also found in Quebec French, and must have entered the former from the latter, inasmuch as the word derives from the Huron language, which was originally spoken in what is today Southern Ontario (too far away from Acadia for a direct loan to be possible). It did so before the mid-eighteenth century, since the word is also found in Cajun French.

    PAMPLEMOUSSE does sound odd to most French speakers, possibly because the word is a comparatively recent Dutch loan, whose medial /pl/ + /m/ does sound rather outlandish: certainly the preferences expressed by many English speakers on this thread indicate a liking for the phonotactically excentric. Among L2 speakers of a language the phonotactically/phonologically exotic (from the vantage point of their L1) does likewise seem to have its attractions: I knew an anglophone speaker of French whose favorite French word was CUISTRE, and a francophone speaker of English whose favorite word was SCRAMBLE. In both instances the word seems to be liked because of its highly "alien" (from the vantage point of their respective L1s) phonemes and phonotactics.

    My own favorites? PUMPERNICKEL in English, which somehow sounds as heavy to my ears as the bread itself feels in my stomach, and SAUTERELLE and LIBELLULE in French, which somehow both sound as light and carefree as the insects themselves…

  103. Riverside Rambles » Words That Are Fun To Say said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 9:51 am

    […] Word Attraction […]

  104. Copy + writi | copyandcoffee said,

    March 23, 2010 @ 10:21 am

    […] to get to the topic of word attraction, but University of Pennsylvania linguist Mark Liberman finally did recently, noting that, “These positive reactions are of course diverse—some do involve irrational […]

  105. Anton Sherwood said,

    August 3, 2010 @ 2:12 am

    IJLS teriyaki turkey jerky.

    Mention of Italian words reminded me of how unnecessarily ugly –gli– words become with a hard /g/.

  106. Richard said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 2:49 am

    And what about A Fish Called Wanda, in which John Cleese reduces Jamie Lee Curtis to rope-humping ecstasy simply through his speaking Russian? Does that count somehow?

  107. Dan "Dirty Hands" Jensen said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 10:17 am

    Cellar Door. From the scene in Donnie Darko

  108. Dr. Decay said,

    April 3, 2013 @ 11:33 am


    I never have occasion to use it and can't remember ever hearing the word spoken, but I like to read it and imagine the sound. If I ever say it aloud I may pronounce it wrong.

    I haven't found any examples of words that inspire aversion in some and attraction in others. Anything to this anti-correlation? Of course if you pick two sets of 25 random english words, the probability of overlap is very low.

  109. Robert said,

    February 19, 2014 @ 11:22 pm

    I like words that feel in my mouth what they say: "Smooth" and "soft" are just that. "Quiescence" finishes with a soft trail. In "Delicate" my tongue dances across the tops of the letters as not to break them.
    And, though they aren't my favorites, Rice Krispies sure said it with "Snap! Crackle! and pop!"

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