Those words we love to hear


By Janice Lindsay

Janice Lindsay

What are your favorite words?

I don’t mean famous sets of three biggies, like “Goodness, Truth, Beauty” or “Faith, Hope, Charity” or “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” Those are Sunday-go-to-meeting, awe-inspiring, cosmic words, so important that you should put on your best clothes just to think about them.

I’m talking about ordinary help-you-get-through-the day words and expressions; thoughts that make you a tad happy; those verbal pegs where you hang life’s bright little knitted caps of simple pleasure.

Words like, “Supper’s ready.”

“Supper’s ready” are some of the sweetest words found together, if you’re the person hearing them. These words might be slightly less satisfying – or satisfying in a different way —  if you’re the person who does the supper readying. But if you’re the person doing the hearing, you know that someone has spent time and thought to nourish you at the end of a long day. I well remember, as a child, coming home on a winter afternoon to the sharp, promising smell of onions frying in butter. Supper was almost ready.

Here’s another favorite: “All you can eat.” These are favorite words for people with big appetites and small budgets.

“Double-chocolate brownies.” Enough said.

Not all favorite words relate to food. Try, “have a nice weekend” — “you won” – “you’re the best.”

“I got an A!” What adult’s heart doesn’t experience a little leap of joy when a child brings this happy news?

How’s this for a favorite: “Summer vacation.” Yes!

And some others: “No charge” —  “I’ll do it for you” – “I got free tickets” – “you’re hired” – “let’s eat out” (when the person hearing is the person who usually does the supper readying) – “happy birthday” — and, of course, the ever-popular “I love you.”

The famous American writer and satirist Dorothy Parker said, “The two most beautiful words in the English language are “’Check enclosed’.” As a writer, I guess I would add that to my list.

Every person has favorites, though sometimes these beautiful life-support words are so soft and fleeting that they go nearly unnoticed by the conscious mind. The subconscious mind, though, grasps them like a hiker stepping carefully from rock to rock across a swift and turbulent stream.

I remember, a long time ago, reading a study where people who did not speak any English were asked to listen to English words and expressions and choose the most beautiful sound. Their choice: “cellar door.”  Probably very few of us English-speakers would choose that as a favorite.

Context matters.

So one person’s favorite might cause another to run away screaming. Think of “We’re coming for two weeks” – “I’ll drive” – “It’s snowing again” – “Let’s go shopping” – “Root canal.” Once, when I had to have root canal surgery, I asked the dental surgeon why he chose as a specialty something that people dread. He said that people are in pain when they come to him, and they are grateful when he relieves the pain. “Root canal” can be a blessing. And it’s certainly a favorite phrase of the surgeon who makes a living doing them.

See what I mean about context?

I happen to like “I’ll bring cookies” – “Your computer is fixed” – “I’ll shovel your walk” – and “Hi, Grammy.”

We English-speakers are lucky to have so many words to choose from: 171,476 currently in use, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Native English speakers commonly use only 20,000 to 35,000 of those, but that still gives us plenty to work with.

I’d like to keep thinking about this, but it’s late, and I have to get supper ready.