I often hear that other languages like Russian, Romanian, French, etc, have words that are more "powerful" or evoke more feelings than English ones. Example: "war" doesn't sound that bad, really, but in Romanian, "razboi" with a hard rolled r and an accent on the 2nd syllable sounds more powerful.

What are some English words that are evocative?

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  • @Benjol: not really... compared to Russian swears, the f word is nothing.
    – Claudiu
    Oct 20, 2010 at 14:37
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    @Claudiu: Be aware that, if you're not a native polyglot, then swears in your native language will always sound much more forceful to you than those in other languages, probably because in your native tongue you've been conditioned over many years to recognise the power of curse words, while in a secondary language you haven't.
    – Jon Purdy
    Oct 20, 2010 at 23:33
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    "mellifluous" only sounds smooth and sweet because the speaker intones it that way... The same speaker could make you cringe as he utters "malevolent", or make you feel warm and comfortable as he spoke of someone "benevolent" ... It's all in the tone... Your tone and cadence and context make the words evocative.
    – fred
    Nov 4, 2010 at 14:22
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    @Jon Purdu, I lived most part of my life, dozens of years, "abroad" (though I really do not know which is my home country) and I second @Claudiu that there is nothing to compare with some slavic expressions in any other languages Feb 19, 2011 at 12:35

1 Answer 1


After re-reading this question, I think what you're really after is the concept of sound symbolism. On Google Books, you'll find a reasonably complete copy of a book entitled Sound Symbolism, a good read on the theory in general. It's pretty dense, but has a lot of good information.

As for a list of English words, I found it difficult to come up with a satisfactory list of "powerful" words, so here instead are the 70 most beautiful words in English as determined by a poll over 40000 native and non-native speakers, carried out by the British Council in 2004.

Hope this helps!

  • oo it does indeed. fun link from the wiki page: link. i disagree with that list, though, "mother" is not really a pretty word.. some of the others are nice though
    – Claudiu
    Oct 21, 2010 at 17:12
  • Ah, the bouba/kiki effect. That's a classic example, and one that most anyone can relate to. I don't necessarily agree with all of the words on that list, either, but most of them seem to have been selected on the basis of meaning as well as pronunciation. I, for instance, particularly like "if" and "hope" for their sounds alone—but, then again, I'm also a convicted optimist!
    – Jon Purdy
    Oct 21, 2010 at 17:19
  • My mother slapped me harsh for "mother" (мать) and taught me that I should use "mom" (мама) instead. It is almost insult or sign of disrespect, at least, to call "мама" by "мать" in Russianю By the was, the most insulting words are called in Russian "матерные" from the word "мать" (mother) Feb 19, 2011 at 12:45
  • One of my own personal favourites is scarf.
    – TRiG
    May 23, 2011 at 13:29

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