John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and random topics. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. The original site,, at, and now at

Monday, February 22, 2010

The sweetest sound

Last week the lighthearted lexicographer Grant Barrett published an essay in The New York Times on the claim, attributed to various writers over the years, that cellar door is the most euphonious phrase in the English language.

(“Huh?” you say? Read the article.)

On Facebook, one of my daughter’s former teachers wrote to ask whether I found the claim reasonable or preposterous, suggesting, for her part, that melancholy is more beautiful.

My suggestion for the most beautiful phrase in the language:

Pay to the order of

And therefore, since I have freelance projects pending and you, dear reader, my dearest friend, do not part with a dime for these posts, You Don’t Say will now shut down for the remainder of the day.


  1. Apropos of nothing, perhaps a post on how editors at newspapers discover and deal with reporters who make it up and reporters who plagiarize (if, in fact, they still perform this important function). Two cases that come to mind in the annals of Baltimore Sun history were of the former the obit writer who was fired for lavishing praise on a deceased businessman his own daughter said was an inveterate bastard, and of the latter, the popular metro columnist who cribbed from The Post and was famously fired for his sins.

  2. Aww. A penny for your thoughts?

  3. "reporters who make it up and reporters who plagiarize (if, in fact, they still perform this important function)."

    Without reporters who plagiarize, the blogoshpere might be completely silent. At least among the copy pundits. Is that yer drift?

    In other news, I propose we get ahold of John's Paypal account e-mail and send each send a dime.

  4. My favorite isn't far from yours: "plenty of money."

    It has a lovely rhythm; you might almost say it jingles.

  5. A little cranky?

    PBSD? (Post-blizzard stress disorder)

  6. The first time I heard that "cellar door" story was from a teacher. He claimed that Edgar Allan Poe said it was the most beautiful word (or phrase) in the English language, and that was why Poe loved such names as Ulalume and Lenore. Se non è vero è ben trovato.

  7. John's got a papal account? I thought he was an Episcopalian.