Ugly Words for Beautiful

Have you ever noticed that a lot of languages have some fairly nasty-sounding words for the concept of beauty? The Hebrew word, יָפֶה (ya-FEH), for instance, sounds kind of like you're coughing up a hairball. The Japanese word, 美しい (oots-koo-SHE-ee) is a little better, but it doesn't exactly roll melodiously off the tongue. In Greek, καλός (cah-LOSS, good or beautiful) is only one letter different from κακός (cah-KOSS, evil, bad, ugly).

I think the worst of all may be the Latin word pulcher, source of the English spelling-bee word "pulchritude", which ostensibly means "beauty", although I cannot possibly imagine ever using such a hideous-sounding word non-sarcastically to refer to genuine beauty. Perhaps we could coin the word "malpulchrated" to refer to unnecessary or gaudy decoration (making something "beautiful" in a bad way, like stringing excessive amounts of five clashing colors of tinsel all over an otherwise attractive building, or make-up a la Tammy Faye Bakker).


Ahoy hoy said...

Actually you'd be surprised how natural 美しい can sound when used.