Friday, November 19, 2010

The Beauty of Cellar Doors

Every once in a while,'s articles catch my eye. Today's is on the most beautiful sound combination in the English language: cellar door.

Meaning aside, I agree. Tolkein was the first to deem it so. He was a master of beauty in phonics. The names he came up with are poetry in a single word each. (like Isildur. Sounds rather phonetically similar to cellar door, doesn't it?).

So why does Cellar Door work so powerfully? I say it to myself, and it does in fact roll off my tongue like a thing of beauty. After mulling it over, I really think it has to do with, get this, plot arcs.

As a writer, I'm hyper-aware of what makes a good story, that is, a beginning, middle, and end, all stitched together with a specific pattern of rising action to a climax that falls after with a denouement. There's Joseph Campbell's monomyth to thank for showing us how the plot arc and story experience are clearly a universal one, deeply embedded in our collective unconscious. It's how we want to see the world and all events in it.

Humanity calls things poetic, like justice, when their idea of what should happen and what actually happens coincide perfectly. A very big part of the shoulds in our mind come from the basic story arc, and any time something mimics it, it feels beautiful to us, poetic, because the ebb and flow of something in the universe matches our idea of an appropriate pattern.

Cellar Door is one of the more perfect plot arcs of phonetic experiences. The S sound at the beginning pulls us into the beginning seamlessly, and since the emphasis is on the first syllable, the second is a momentary respite before the sharp climax of that D. The long o and receding r are the cathartic falling action that drift away into the night.

Every time I say it, I feel like I'm experiencing a miniature story, and tiny capsule of truth that mirrors the way I want reality to work with tension, climax, and resolution. It's a bite sized piece of beauty where ideals and reality actually meet.

Do you think Cellar Door is a beautiful phrase? And what do you think it is about a thing, word or otherwise, that makes it beautiful?

1 comment:

  1. Love the pic, can't say I've ever given much thought to the euphonics of certain phrases but cellar door does have a nice ring to it. Tolkien was gifted in his way of making the names and places of specific peoples work together.