Mellifluous and cacophony

Mellifluous is a beautiful word that rolls off the tongue with a soft and sweet sound. It’s often used to describe music, poetry, or speech that is pleasing to the ear. Cacophony on the other hand refers to harsh, discordant, and unpleasant sounds, often resulting from a lack of harmony or a mixture of sounds that clash with each other such as the traffic and klaxon noise in a busy city.

The meaning of mellifluous

The word mellifluous comes from the Latin words “mellis” meaning honey and “fluere” meaning to flow. The literal translation of the word is “flowing with honey.” Honey has always been considered a symbol of sweetness, and it was often used to describe things that were pleasing or delightful.

The word mellifluous first appeared in English in the 15th century to describe the sound of birds and their songs. The word gradually evolved to encompass a broader range of sounds and came to be used to describe music, poetry, and speech.

In Keats’ poem “Ode to a Nightingale” he describes the “full-throated ease” of the nightingale’s song as “mellifluous” and “untainted.”

The meaning of cacophony

Cacophony has an equally appropriate story but has its roots in Greek. In Greek, “… phone” means sound and “kakas” (κακάς) is an adjective that means “bad” or “wicked.” It comes from a very early word “kakka” which meant to defecate. Caca appears in English slang around 1870. So the polite interpretation of the meaning of cacophony is sounding bad but the most literal is that it is sounding like caca. You can guess what I prefer.

The meaning of poppycock

This does lead me to the meaning of poppycock, which means trivial nonsense. It originated in American English (in 1865). It probably comes from the anglicisation of the Dutch dialect word “pappekak”. In Middle Dutch pappe means “soft food” (pap in English is soft food given to babies) and kak means “dung”. Which by the same logic we used above would be more loosely translated as talking caca.

The delight in words—mellifluous and cacophony

Together the history of these words show us how the human imagination works to create the symbolism and meaning in our words. To equate the beautiful sounds of birds with sweet flowing honey and the sounds of discordant music with the foulness of caca is to me a great delight.