To perceive the beauty of cellar door, that is, we have to transcend not just its semantics but its orthography, to recover the pre-alphabetic innocence that comes when we let “the years of reading fall away,” in Auden’s phrase, to attune ourselves with sonorities that are hidden from the ear behind the overlay of writing.
To show how great a role meaning plays in these judgments, Max Beerbohm once wrote “If gondola were a disease, and if a scrofula were a beautiful boat peculiar to a beautiful city, the effect of each word would be exactly the reverse of what it is. The appropriately beautiful or ugly sound of any word is an illusion wrought on us by what the word connotes.”
You may have heard one of many quoted linguists or authors who claim that the compound noun cellar door is the most beautiful in the English language. If you can disassociate the words from its connotation, you may just agree. It just sounds… nice.
Why does there seem to be such agreement on cellar door, though? Is it just some sort of hipster linguistics? This little post makes me believe it is much more than that.