One of the ten most beautiful sounding words: cellophane (1940)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Feb 22 20:45:54 UTC 2010

Thanks to Geoffrey Nunberg for his valuable comment on "the way
meaning unconsciously colors a perception of 'purely phonetic'

Geoffrey Nunberg wrote
> In _Plastics: The Making of a Synthetic Century_ (Harper Business,
> 1996), Steven Fenichell ends his chapter on the cellophane mania of
> the thirties by saying: "In 1940, cellophane crowned its ethereal
> dominance of the depression decade by placing close to the top in a
> nationwide poll designed to determine 'the most beautiful words in the
> English language.' Cellophane placed third -- beaten by 'mother' and
> 'memory.' (Fenichell doesn't give a source for this.)

For interested individuals here is the source. The syndicated
newspaper columnist Frank Colby conducted a poll to determine the ten
most beautiful sounding words and reported the results in 1940.

Citation: 1940 July 11, San Antonio Express, Don't Take My Word for It
by Frank Colby, Page 7, Column 2, San Antonio, Texas.

Several weeks ago this column announced a nation-wide poll to elect
the 10 most beautiful sounding English words. Readers deluged me with
lists, and it has taken until now to tabulate the words and determine
the winning ten. ...

Readers sent many jawbreakers, such as "tintinabulation,
vivisepulture, necrophagous, onomatopoeia." One swain submitted his
sweetheart's name, saying: "This is the only beautiful word. You may
have the other nine with my compliments." ...

You have elected these as the Ten Most Beautiful Words:

   mother        belladonna
   memory       flamingo
   cellophane  wilderness
   bellboy        tambourine
   melancholy  lavender

Time magazine mentioned these ten words and the words found in a later
poll conducted by Frank Colby ten years later.

Citation: 1950 January 30, Time magazine, The Press: Mimosa, Moonbeams
& Memory, Time Inc., New York.

(Frank Colby) decided to start a column in the Houston Chronicle about
words, their pronunciation and derivation. It was such a success that
Colby settled down full-time to writing a daily column, "Take My Word
for It," now syndicated in 600 newspapers.

 … Last week Logophile Colby reported the results of a new readers'
poll. Mother had slipped a bit, but was still listed among the top
ten. There were eight new favorites. The 1950 hit parade: melody,
lullaby, mimosa, memory, mellow, mother, moonbeam, murmuring,
beautiful, lanolin.,9171,856518,00.html

These are intriguing polls, but they are of course non-scientific. The
participants are self-selected and the range of potential answers is
enormous. Perhaps I am being overly suspicious, but I wonder if a
company or an advertising agency associated with cellophane attempted
to manipulate the first poll.

The American Dialect Society -

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