What’s the Most Beautiful Word or Phrase in the English Language?

Cellar door.

Yes, you read that correctly, cellar door is the most beautiful phrase in the English language.

In my wildest imagination, that phrase would have never come to mind. If you showed me a list of 10 phrases, one of which was cellar door, it’s highly unlikely that I would have chosen cellar door (unless the other nine words had something to do with modern art.)

So who decided that cellar door was so beautiful?

Apparently the people who study phonaesthetics, which is the study of the euphony and cacophony of words without regard for semantics. Euphony is used most commonly to describe the pleasing, agreeable sound effect of poetry. In general, vowel sounds are more euphonious. Cacophony, meaning harsh and discordant, is the opposite of euphony.

In terms of phonaesthetics, cellar door is often held up as an example of the most euphonic sound combination. None other than J.R.R. Tolkien, author of  The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, is credited as one of the first to make this claim.

Now I don’t certainly claim to have the same mastery of the English language as J.R.R. Tolkien, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never read anything by Tolkien, but his choice of cellar door as such a beautiful phrase certainly doesn’t make me want to run out and read Lord of the Rings.

When I think of or say the phrase cellar door, my thoughts certainly aren’t of beauty, but of creepy, dark, dank places.

The first house my wife and I lived in had a cellar door, similar to the one pictured above, but not nearly as nice. I  can’t recall any of my experiences of using that cellar door (which I trie to avoid as best I could), as being particularly beautiful moments.

So the choice of cellar door might have to fall under my take on modern art; I just don’t get it. Like this work of art below by Robert Ryman, known as Untitled. The all white painting sold  for $15 million at a 2014 auction.


I’m not sure what’s worse, having cellar door as the most beautiful word in the English language, or the fact that Untitled sold for $15 million. Hopefully it’s not a comment on the state of American culture…

By the way, if someone were to ask me for the most beautiful sounding word or phrase in the English language, while ignoring the meaning of the word or phrase,I would pick the word legerdemain.

I’ll share in a future post one of the highlights of my college experience that involved the use of the word legerdemain.

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Seven Key Questions about Money You Need to Think About

Last year, I wrote a post titled, “Three Questions That Can Change Your Life“. The post looked at the concept of “life planning”, an approach to financial planning developed by the The Kinder Institute that is based on the premise that advisors should first discover a client’s most essential goals in life before formulating a financial plan, so a client’s finances fully support those goals.

In order to discover such goals, George Kinder, the founder of the Kinder Institute, suggests that its advisers ask potential clients the following three questions:

  1. Imagine you have enough money to satisfy all of your needs, now and in the future. Would you change your life and, if so, how would you change it?
  2. This time, assume you are in your current financial situation. Your doctor tells you that you only have five to 10 years to live, but that you will feel fine up until the end. Would you change your life and, if so, how would you change it?
  3. Your doctor tells you that you have just one day to live. You look back at your life. What did you miss out on? Who did you not get to be? What did you fail to do?

Today I read a story by Ron Lieber in the New York Times titled,  “7 Essential Money Questions Sure to Start a Conversation” that also takes a look at the type of questions that should be asked when doing a financial plan.

  1. What lessons about money did you learn from your parents?
  2. What does the word “money” conjure up for you?
  3. How many children would you like to have when you retire?
  4. How do you think your children feel about that?
  5. Tell me about your financial situation when you first met (for couples).
  6. What are the most important things in your life?
  7. What does the prospect of retirement look like to you?

When combined with the three questions from the Kinder Institute, these questions can really help a person figure out what is important to them.

And once you know what is important to you, it makes it easier to start mapping out what you need to do financially, socially, mentally, and physically in order to live the life you intended, one that is filled with meaning and purpose.

And if you’re wondering when you will find the time to answer such questions, the title of yesterday’s post provides the answer, “Do It Now“.

Do It Now

This is the 75th, and final, in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.

If you’re putting off something you’ve been meaning to do, what are you waiting for?
Always wanted to play the banjo?
Start taking lessons.
Dreamt about visiting the Greek Islands?
Call a travel agent.
Hate your bathroom wallpaper?
Scrape it off and paint.
Feel better if you exercised?
Start jogging.
Love the taste of home-grown tomatoes?
Plant your own.
Angry about the potholes in your street?
Gp to your town meetings.
Whatever you’ve been putting off, do it now.
Tomorrow may be too late.

Great words of advice.

I remember a few years ago when I was thinking about going back to the local community college to get a degree in health and fitness. I met with one of the college’s counselors and told him that one of my concerns was that the program would take three years to complete and as a result I would be almost 50 years old by the time I finished. His response was perfect, and memorable. He asked me a simple, but powerful question,

“How old will you be in three years if you don’t enroll in the program?”

His point was that my age was irrelevant to the decision whether to start the program. I had to make a decision to do it now if the opportunity presented itself, and since there was no good reason not to do it, I started the program, and ended up loving it. (Thanks Montco!) Three years later, I had my degree and it started me on a journey towards opening my own business.

Doing something now gives you the ability to look back on that decision several years later and see what impact such a decision has had on you. And the sooner you get started with something, the sooner you will reap the rewards for having done so. And the sooner you make the decision, the longer the time frame you have to enjoy those rewards.

A perfect example is planning for your retirement. The sooner you start, the sooner you may be able to retire. And the sooner you start, the more valuable your retirement funds will be in the future.

When I saw the title of today’s ad, I immediately thought of Nike’s famous slogan, “Just Do It”, and I was curious if this United Technologies’ ad came out before or after the Nike slogan. Well this UTech ad came out in the early 1980s, and the Nike ad was launched in 1988.

While researching the Nike slogan, I came across an interesting fact, albeit a somewhat shocking one.

The founder of the Wieden+Kennedy agency that came up with the slogan, Dan Wieden, credits the inspiration for his “Just Do It” Nike slogan to Gary Gilmore’s last words.

If you’re not familiar who Gary Gilmore is, he gained international notoriety for demanding the implementation of his death sentence for two murders he committed in Utah. After the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a new series of death penalty statutes in the 1976 decision Gregg v. Georgia, he became the first person in almost ten years to be executed in the United States.

Not sure why you would want your corporate slogan associated with a convicted murderer’s final words before his execution.

I wonder if Nike was even aware of the origin of the phrase, although it seems to have worked out quite well for them.

Maybe that just goes to prove how powerful the slogan is; despite its questionable origin, the fact that Nike “Just Did It” made all the difference.

What’s holding you back?

Bad Form Is Everywhere!

One of my pet peeves is bad form design.

How hard would it be for the person designing a form to actually fill it out themselves and see if it works?

I was filling out a form similar to the one shown below (I don’t want to pick on the actual company whose form I was filling out), and to me some of the problems are obvious, even without filling in the form (you can click on the form to get a better view of it).


Here are a few issues I had with the design and layout of this form:

  • the amount of space to write the address for a parent/guardian is way too little
  • the space for emergency contact is quite vague; do you just supply a name, or a name and phone number, or name, phone number, and relationship?
  • the space to write in the names and addresses for the primary care physician and referring physician was the biggest problem. it seems most doctors’ addresses are going to include the name of a hospital or medical building, along with a suite number, a street number, and the city , state and zip. How you are expected to fit all of that in in such a small amount of space? Talk about annoying!
  • the space to write in your preferred pharmacy is also way too small
  • why do zip code, preferred language, social security #, date of birth, and gender require an entire line?

The form does do a few things well:

  • unlike many forms I fill out, this one actually has enough space to write in my email address without resorting to using really tiny print. When will form designers realize that an email address usually requires more space than a phone number? This is usually my #1 per peeve associated with filling out forms, but this form actually did it the right way.
  • I like how there are separate lines for me to enter my street, city, state and zip code (but note my previous remark about the zip code line). Many forms use the approach noted above with the doctors’ addresses when asking for the patient’s info.
  • I also like the use of the check boxes for items like choosing the type of phone number, your gender, race, ethnicity, and marital status. That would seem to lead to fewer errors from trying to read someone’s handwriting.
  • I also like the use of different colors coding (or different shading if you print the form in black and white).

I know there are bigger problems in the world than whining about some minor inconveniences associated with filling out a form. But when the fix for such problems is pretty simple, why don’t people just fix it?

By the way, if you want to see another couple of examples of poor form, how about these divers:


And if you want to see what good form looks like:


Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Gloom of Night nor CRANKY KIDS??

This story would qualify for a Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Apparently back in the early 1900s, it was perfectly legal to send children through the mail using USPS. As long as the child weighed less than 50 pounds and was less than eighty-four inches in combined length and girth, the child qualified as a parcel package, and starting in 1913, such packages could be delivered to city and farm. Postage stamps were affixed to the children’s outer clothing.

The only restrictions on what could be mailed were no poisons, inflammable materials, pistols, live or dead animals, intoxicants or any articles “with a bad odor.”

I guess these kids didn’t qualify as animals, and they were probably given a bath before they were shipped so that they didn’t smell.

While many of the deliveries were quite short, perhaps a mile or less, there were some documented cases of longer trips, from the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum:

  • In February 1914 May Pierstorff, just shy of her sixth birthday, was mailed from Grangeville, Idaho, to Lewistown, Idaho, to visit her grandparents. At 48½ pounds, she barely beat the 50 pound limit. Total distance: 73 miles. Total postage: 53 cents.
  • In March 2014, Edna Neff, also 6 years old, set the record for the longest mailing: from Pensacola, Fla., to Christiansburg, Va., a distance of 727 miles. Her postage was only 15 cents.

A main advantage of using the postal service was cost. It was much cheaper to use parcel post (just a few cents) than to buy a seat on a passenger train. Besides, children sent via post rode a train anyhow, situated in the mail car where they were tended to, even fed, by clerks.

The practice was finally banned on June 13, 1920, after the postal service received a good deal of criticism for the absurdity associated with making such deliveries.

But I’m wondering if there is a business opportunity here. Maybe Uber could start a special delivery service with its driverless cars, shuttling kids from home to schools, activities, play dates, etc., and back again.

I already have the perfect logo as well, a stork delivering a baby.


And I see one big advantage over the old USPS system – there would no longer be a need to plaster the kids with postage stamps.

High School Career Survey Turns Out Surprisingly Accurate 40 Years Later

I was rummaging through some boxes of memorabilia and came across the results of my Kuder Occupational Interest Survey test from my senior year of high school, shown above.

The survey shows results both for occupations and college majors that align most closely with the responses I gave to the survey questions. When I look at what I scored strong on, it matches fairly closely with what I ended up studying and what I have actually ended up pursuing as a career.

The top ten college majors that best matched my responses were:

  • Mathematics
  • Business, accounting, and finance
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Physical Science
  • Premed
  • Biological Science
  • Physical Education
  • Civil Engineering
  • Agriculture

As it turned out, I started off college as a math major, switched to phys ed for a while, and ended up as an econ major (which was the closest thing my college had to a business major). I then went on to get an MBA, and then a PhD in Accounting. I also went back to the local community college several years later and picked a degree in phys ed.

All of those majors were predicted by this test!

Here is the list of the top ten occupations that best matched my responses:

  • meteorologist
  • certified public accountant
  • optometrist
  • statistician
  • computer programmer
  • chemist
  • civil engineer
  • mining engineer
  • mathematician
  • high school math teacher

These results are also pretty close to how my life eventually turned out. I have passed the exam to be a certified public accountant, and while I am not a high school math teacher, a college accounting teacher doesn’t seem too different.


(I’m also thinking that perhaps my senior year high school photo may have had something to do with my ranking so high as a certified public accountant…)

I’ve written before about the whole meteorology thing being my top career match and how I decided to follow-up on this a bit in college by taking a course in meteorology, and it ended up being the only C I got in college. So I guess the the predictive abilities of the survey aren’t perfect, or maybe it’s a sign I’ve been in the wrong profession for 35 years…

I also found it interesting that the test also captured quite well what I didn’t like, and still have little interest in. My lowest scoring college major match was art and art education (I’ve written before about my lack of appreciation for art), and my lowest matching career was interior decorator.

Overall, the Kuder survey seemed to reflect pretty well what my interests were and what types of careers best matched my interests.

So maybe I need to rethink my belief that college freshmen are too young to know what they really want to do.

It seems as if the things you liked as a high school senior may be a good predictor for what you end doing with your life. If that’s the case, it seems to imply that the high school years are pretty formative ones, and parents, teachers, and students need to treat that time period with the care it deserves.

Of course, the results could also turn out to simply be a set of self-fulfilling prophecies. If that’s the case, I’m glad retail clothier didn’t score too high…

Soda Tax in Berkeley Leads to Drop in Consumption

Residents of Philadelphia take note!

Consumption of soda and other sugary drinks fell by 21% in low-income neighborhoods of Berkeley after the California city became the first in the U.S. to introduce a special tax last year of a penny per ounce, according to a study published this past Tuesday. At the same time, soft and sugary drink consumption in low-income neighborhoods of San Francisco and Oakland rose 4%

The study is careful to note that it cannot prove the tax is what led to the decrease in consumption, but does state that the results “suggest’’ that the tax lowered consumption. The study acknowledges that other factors also could have been at play, such as increased awareness about the health impact of sugary drinks.

The study focused on low-income neighborhoods because the researchers say obesity and diabetes rates are higher in such neighborhoods, and price increases have a bigger impact on purchasing patterns.

While consumption of sugary drinks decreased, consumption of bottled water or tap water rose 63% in Berkeley during the period but a more modest 19% in San Francisco and Oakland.

This is good news for other cities, such as San Francisco and Oakland, that are expected to vote on a penny-per-ounce levy on sugary drinks in November ballot initiatives, while Boulder, is expected to vote on a two-cent per ounce tax.

Philadelphia’s city council in June approved a tax of 1.5 cents per ounce on sweetened drinks, becoming the second U.S. city to pass such a measure; a portion of the proceeds from the Philadelphia soda tax are targeted for preschool.

So it seems that if the Philly tax plan has the same effect as the one in Berkeley, there should be an initial windfall from such a tax, but then the proceeds from the tax will decrease each year as consumption decreases.

I would think that will be tough to get used to, seeing a source of revenue in constant decline.

I’m a fan of what are known as sin taxes, so I would have no problem if the city finds some new sin to tax in a few years.

I’d like to suggest a tax on guns and bullet; hopefully it would have the same effect as the Berkeley soda tax..



Wednesday Word of the Week: Kakistocracy

The word of the week comes from a recent Peggy Noonan column that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, “The Week They Decided Donald Trump Was Crazy.”

Here is the relevant section:

“I end with a new word, at least new to me. A friend called it to my attention. It speaks of the moment we’re in. It is “kakistocracy,” from the Greek. It means government by the worst persons, by the least qualified, or most unprincipled. We’re on our way there, aren’t we? We’re going to have to make our way through it together.”

I’ll have to agree with Ms. Noonan, it certainly seems like we are headed towards such a government, or at least a significant number of people will claim that’s what is in our future, no matter what the outcome f the upcoming election.

I’m not sure what such a form of government says about our country, our leaders, and ourselves. But it raises a lot of questions:

  • How did we get to such a place?
  • What are the risks associated with such a form of government?
  • How hard is it to recover from kakistocracy, and how long would it take?

I wonder if the use of this word will increase as we get closer to the November elections.

And here’s a fun fact: according to the web site, The Phrontistery, there are 169 forms of government.

Here are some of the more unusual ones:

  • beerocracy: government by brewers or brewing interests
  • idiocracy: personal rule; self-rule
  • kleptocracy: government by thieves
  • narcokleptocracy: government by those who profit from trade in illegal drugs
  • pornocracy: government by harlots
  • ptochocracy: government by beggars or paupers

From what I can tell, the examples above were, at one point in history, actual forms of government. While it doesn’t look like all 169 terms given in the Phrontistery list can make that claim, I’m still impressed that there used to be governments run by harlots and brewers.

Who knows, maybe a beertocracy or pornocracy would be better than a kakistocracy…

Move-In Day!

Are there many moments more exciting than move-in day at college, particularly for freshmen?

I am sure there is also a lot of stress leading up to the big day, but hopefully that stress is overwhelmed by the amount of excitement associated with such an event.

It seems as if schools have become logistics experts in terms of the way they handle move-in day. At Villanova, students are assigned a certain time slot when they can move in to their dorm. Once they arrive on campus, they can pull their car up close to their dorm, unload their car right at the curb, and then move the car to the main parking lot immediately afterwards. Such a process keeps the long line of cars moving at a fairly good pace, and I assume such a process minimizes the total amount of time required to complete move-in day.

The public safety officers seemed a bit stressed to me as I walked through the hustle and bustle, yelling at the families to speed up the unloading of their cars, and getting impatient if a driver did not immediately respond to their hand signals as to where to park their car, but all things considered, everything appeared to be going smoothly.

Fortunately it was not too hot a day, and I did not see anyone collapsing under the weight of all the stuff they were moving into their dorm rooms. I also didn’t see anyone getting upset with the public safety officers…

When I think of move-in day, I think of the classic, final Calvin and Hobbes comic strip shown below.


Hobbes: “Everything familiar has disappeared! The world looks brand new!”

Calvin: “A new year… a fresh, clean start!

Hobbes: “It’s like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on!”

Calvin: “A day full of possibilities!”

Calvin: “It’s a magical world Hobbes, Ol’ Buddy…”

Calvin: “Let’s go exploring!”

I think those words describe fairly well what the beginning of a new academic year is like for students, and it’s even more special for the freshmen.

As a faculty member I feel the same way at the beginning of each semester; it’s a fresh, clean start, full of possibilities.

My hope is that college students everywhere get to experience a magical world, one full of possibilities.

And don’t forget to go exploring…

The Decline of Standards

This is the 74th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.

A big city school system requires a student in the seventh grade to be able to read as well as a fifth grader, who, by the way, must be able to read as well as a fourth grader, who, in turn, must be able to read as well as a third grader.
What’s wrong with demanding that a seventh grader be required to read like a seventh grader?
How would you like to be operated on by a brain surgeon who graduated from a school that allowed its students to be a year and a half behind in their skills?

I’m not really sure what Harry is talking about here. I can’t imagine that a school system would permit such standards. Is he suggesting that to pass seventh grade, a student only needs to be able to read at the third grade level?

I know that our public school system has some significant problems, but is it that bad? There may be isolated instances of such a situation, but on average, I would assume that when standards are set, the standards are different for each grade level. Otherwise, why have grade levels?

I wonder what Harry would say about the Common Core. The Common Core State Standards Initiative is an educational initiative in the United States that details what K–12 students should know in English language arts and mathematics at the end of each grade. The initiative is sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and seeks to establish consistent educational standards across the states as well as ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit-bearing courses at two- or four-year college programs or to enter the workforce. While 42 states have adopted the Common Core, it remains a controversial topic.

I’m not sure how I feel about the Common Core. On the one hand, Bill Gates is a big supporter, and I usually agree with the initiatives that he supports. On the other hand, I know a couple of public school teachers who are strongly against the use of the Common Core.

I think both sides have the same goal, to improve student learning; where they differ is in terms of what approach is most effective in accomplishing such a goal.

So I think the fact that there is a common goal should make it easier for people to arrive at an approach that is effective and that the majority can agree on.

And that’s the type of solution I think would ease Harry Gray’s concerns…

*By the way, this is the penultimate ad in this series of ads that United Technologies published in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

**I look for every opportunity to use the word ‘penultimate’, it’s one of my favorites…