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mel·lif·lu·ous /məˈliflo͞oəs/ Adjective: (of a voice or words) Sweet or musical; pleasant to hear.

As in the title: is "mellifluous" onomatopoeic or is the definition of onomatopoeia stricter than that?

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Tangentially, or perhaps metaphorically, related: english.stackexchange.com/q/23529 english.stackexchange.com/q/89691 meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/3442 –  tchrist Dec 22 '12 at 16:47

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The word you are looking for is not onomatopoeic, but rather either of autological or homological, as described in this answer. Both mean a word that is self-descriptive. Mellifluous is autological because its name sounds so sweet.

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I don't even think it sounds sweet. Before I knew what it meant I always thought it sounded like something you'd call a gang of bullies. "What are those mellifluous kids up to now." I still avoid using it today because it's not a well-known word and I wouldn't want people to misinterpret it the way I did. –  Jim Dec 22 '12 at 17:34
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It sounds sweet for phoneaesthetic reasons: it has no unvoiced stops (nor any at all), and uses linguals and nasals and fricatives and sibilants. Compare cellar door, Melian, Lúthien, Doriath, Beleriand, Valinor. –  tchrist Dec 22 '12 at 17:43

A word is generally considered onomatopoeic when it has its origins in the actual sound it describes. Common examples are buzz, whoosh and cuckoo. Melliflouous comes from Latin words meaning ‘honey’ and ‘flow’. If the sound of the word in any way echoes its sense, it does so entirely fortuitously.

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A word like mellifluous describes the sound. An onomatopoeic word like buzz imitates the sound.

Mellifluous is not onomatopoeic because it does not imitate the sound it describes.

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According to Etymonline:

mellifluous (adj.)
early 15c., "sweet, pleasing" (of an odor, a style of speaking or writing, etc.), from L.L. mellifluus "flowing with (or as if with) honey," from L. mel (gen. mellis) "honey" (related to Gk. meli "honey;" see Melissa) + -fluus "flowing," from fluere "to flow" (see fluent). Related: Melifluously; melifluousness.

In order for it to be onomatopoeic, at some point in its history it would have had to be imitative of some sound made. As far as I can tell, honey does not make a sound. Ever.

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Evidence is starting to emerge that some people think nom nom is the sound of honey (others think it's nom nom nom :) –  FumbleFingers Dec 22 '12 at 22:55

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