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Tolkien and "cellar door"

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  • David Bratman
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/magazine/14FOB-onlanguage-t.html?ref=magazine This is an article tracing the history of the idea that the sound of cellar
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 13, 2010
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      http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/magazine/14FOB-onlanguage-t.html?ref=magazine

      This is an article tracing the history of the idea that the sound of "cellar
      door" is particularly beautiful. It mentions Tolkien as a proponent of the
      idea, but he is clearly not its originator; in fact, several before him seem
      to have come up with that particular example independently.

      To be clear, Tolkien wasn't claiming to have originated the idea either. He
      is just using it as an example. The article says merely that "he mentioned
      the idea of cellar door's special beauty in a speech in 1955 and is often
      given credit for it."

      The citation is to Tolkien's essay "English and Welsh", which was indeed
      given as a lecture in 1955, and what Tolkien says (p. 190-91 of _The
      Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays_) is in the context of discussing
      what makes a language beautiful, intended to explain the appeal to him of
      Welsh.

      "Most English-speaking people, for instance, will admit that _cellar door_
      is 'beautiful', especially if dissociated from its sense (and from its
      spelling). More beautiful than, say, _sky_, and far more beautiful than
      _beautiful_. Well then, in Welsh for me _cellar doors_ are extraordinarily
      frequent."

      So rather than claiming to have originated the idea, Tolkien considers it a
      commonplace.
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