22 May 2022


Not Eurythmics

Long before I began to write, I realized some words have soft forms and others hard edges, even harsh, jagged teeth. The letter G has a soft feel that alliterates with J, but the hard G means serious business. For example:

glare, goat, glum, gormless, gut, gash, gears, glut, gangster, garage, gag, gasp, guttural, gale, gaffe, gaff
Combine the G with the letter R, then Gr… can sound overly masculine, even violent.
grit, gravel, grind, grubby, grungy, grumpy, grate, grill, grotesque, grab, grope, grease, gross, grim, groan, growl, grunt, grrrr

The sounds– the letters– that follow can soften a word. Examples include:

glen, glade, gorgeous, glorious, giggly, glamorous, girl

The Sound You Hear…

Not Ebonics

The understanding and practice of sounds is called euphonics. It comes to us from the realm of music and poetry, and it refers to the sounds of words. Some words work well together where one word seems to naturally follow another. Contrarily, other words don't sound right when harnessed together. Poets and lyricists treat euphonies as one of their best tools.

Authors also use euphonics, although they may not be aware of it. I pay a lot of attention to names: ethnicity, meaning, type (occupational, place, etc) and the sound. I often try to fit a name with a character’s personality: Is she smart, sly, sensible, seductive, sensuous, soft, sordid, staid, straight-laced, stalwart, or staggeringly strong? I strive to reflect that in the name.

Positive About Negatives

Thanks for a tip from ABA and Sharon pointing me to an article by Joslyn Chase. Chase drew my attention to a book, Euphonics For Writers by Rayne Hall. Among other topics, they point out words beginning with N tend to impart a negative tone. I might add that many, many languages have this same characteristic:

no, nay, nix, non, nein, ne, nee, nej, nie, não, nu, nyet

Not only do words have meaning and inflections carry meaning, but the sounds of words also affect readers and listeners.

If you’ve read Rayne Hall’s book, what is your impression?


  1. Years ago I heard this (most likely apocryphal) story about a man who immigrated to America. He spoke little English but was proud of his new country and its language. When his wife gave birth to his daughter he decided to give her the name of the most beautiful sounding English word he had ever heard -- Diarrhea.

    1. That's sufficient to constipate the poor guy's creativity!

      Jerry, while I was writing this article, I recalled as a child hearing the word abatoir (with the French accent) and thinking how beautiful it sounded… until I learned what it meant.

  2. Interesting, Leigh! I'm headed over to Amazon now to buy the book.

  3. Very interesting article. And I do play with euphonics. BTW - one major exception to words beginning with N being negative: in Greek, yes is nai, and no is ochi, which is pronounced just enough like okay to make you feel that Americans can be totally confused...

    1. And not merely pronunciation and meaning! The capital letter for nu is Ν, but the lower case looks like ν. To further the confusion, the Greek letter η that looks like it should represent lower case n is actually the lower case of Η.

      Long ago a suite of my software queried the console operator with a yes/no question. Because my program was multinational, I might expect positive answers like oui, si, ja, da, and so on, which could take a stretch of coding logic out of proportion to the simple answer I wanted. I realized I could simply look at the first letter and if it was N, I had the answer. The main exception was Greek (and Turkish), but fortunately the Greek alphabet mapped to a different character set (yes/no = ναι/όχι), not hard to deal with.


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