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The English compound noun cellar door (especially in its British pronunciation of /sɛləˈdɔə/) is commonly used as an example of a word or phrase which is beautiful in terms of phonaesthetics (sound) with no regard for semantics (meaning). It has been variously presented either as merely one beautiful instance of many, or as the most beautiful in the English language; either as the author’s personal choice, that of an eminent scholar’s, or of a foreigner who does not speak the language.

The claim that cellar door is beautiful to the ear — in opposition to its prosaic meaning — has been made by and attributed to a wide variety of writers over the years. “Poetry, in fact, is two quite distinct things,” H. L. Mencken wrote in a 1920 magazine column. “It may be either or both. One is a series of words that are intrinsically musical, in clang-tint and rhythm, as the single word cellar-door is musical. The other is a series of ideas, false in themselves, that offer a means of emotional and imaginative escape from the harsh realities of everyday.”

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