"Cellar Door" -- attributed to Poe?

greenspun.com : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

In the movie "Donnie Darko", Drew Barrymore plays a Literature teacher. In one scene, she has the words "Cellar Door" written on the board behind her. When questioned, she remarks that "a linguist" once said that, of all the sounds in language and all their combinations, the words "cellar door" form the most perfectly pleasing sound to the human ear (or something to that effect).

In the DVD commentary of this movie, the Director attributes this observation to Edgar Allen Poe.

Does this ring a bell with any Poe experts out there?

Thank you. HS

-- Anonymous, September 22, 2003


Probably a confusion from Poe's poem "The Raven" and his well- known "nevermore" leit-motive, whose sound Poe liked really well (together with that of "no more", and "Lenore"...). In this poem, lines with "chamber door" appear repeatedly for effect. Note, however, that I have found a wrong "Raven" text using "cellar door" instead of "chamber door", but it is not at all a variant from Poe's own pen! Poe staged a cellar (with "door") in his tale "The Cask of Amontillado", but I am unaware of any Poe's linguistic fascination for "cellar door". On the other hand, I believe that Tolkien has expressed an opinion of this kind. Perhaps, try "google" for your research? Yours sincerely, Raven's Shade (Belgium).

-- Anonymous, September 22, 2003

Sounds like a tongue in cheek paraphrase of poe-like ideas and quotes. he made statements on poetcs in his essays similar to this about themes and his choice of the "or" sound probably prounced with a soft southern "r" was a conscious preference- and not only by him but by other Romantic poets. But that is probably not the direct origin of the movie reference.

The pop psychology of the linguist seems more at question here. The famous Poe would hardly be referred to obliquely as a linguist. I would google more in terms of modern linguist theories in terms of sounds producing emotional effects. A modern literary theory not a classical literary personage.

-- Anonymous, September 22, 2003

My thanks to you both for your answers. A Google search indeed revealed that I'm not the first one to ask this question. In addition to Poe, the reference is also attributed to T.S. Elliot.

However, this was the answer someone else found.

>>The basic pleasure in the phonetic elements of a language and in the style of their patterns, and then in a higher dimension, pleasure in the association of these word-forms with meanings, is of fundamental importance. This pleasure is quite distinct from the practical knowledge of a language, and not the same as an analytic understanding of its structure. It is simpler, deeper-rooted, and yet more immediate than the enjoyment of literature. Thought it may be allied to some of the elements in the appreciation of verse, it does not need any poets, other than the nameless artists who composed the language. It can be strongly felt in the simple contemplation of vocabulary, or even in a string of names. ...Most English-speaking people, for instance, will admit that *cellar door* is 'beautiful,' especially if dissociated from its sense (and from its spelling). More beautiful that, say, *sky*, and far more beautiful than *beautiful*, Well then, in Welsh, for me *cellar doors* are extraordinarily frequent, and moving to the higher dimension, the words in which there is pleasure in the contemplation of the association of form and sense are abundant.<< J.R.R. Tolkien "English and Welsh" (lecture, 10/21/55) published in_Angles and Britons: O'Donnell Lectures_ (1963) and reprinted in _The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays_ (1983) by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien

Thanks again! Oh, and whether by accident or intent, the film "Donnie Darko" is very Poe-esque and I highly recommend it.


-- Anonymous, September 22, 2003

nice work guys, I was also looking for some information on the same thing, due to me seeing it in Donnie Darko, and you given me almost all the info I was looking for! good stuff. I also highly recommend Donnie Darko, it was a great movie.

-- Anonymous, October 05, 2003

Just a point, don't know about the literature references but watching the film just this morning i couldn't help noticing that cellar door is a phonetic pronounciation of the French C'est la D'Or which translates as "It's the gold". Just thought it could be a pun of sorts.


-- Anonymous, October 08, 2003

Not to be rude, but techinically, while cellar door and c'est la d'or sound similar, they are not phonetic equivalents. Among other differences, the vowel at the beginning of 'cellar' is a lax vowel, while the vowel in the French 'c'est' is a tense vowel. Further, I'm not sure the French would say "C'est la d'or." My ear tells me it would be "C'est de l'or"...but I'm not a native speaker, so feel free to correct me! :-)

-- Anonymous, October 13, 2003

This is interesting from a psychological standpoint: the mere suggestion that this pharse is "the most pleasing sound to the human ear" has created a large number of people who agree. I'd like to do a study in which people who weren't exposed to this yet are given a similar suggestion with a different phrase. I'm sure I could produce hundreds of them that would have the same effect.

-- Anonymous, November 08, 2003

My immediate thought was that it sounded french and in it's pronunciation it has a french feel and form. Many believe the french language to be the sexiest in the world and whilst not french I can see why the phrase in question has a nice ring to it. This is on the basis it seems to me that it said as one, namely as one word rather than two. i.e. something like "celadore".

-- Anonymous, November 15, 2003

I am not a Poe's fan or a linguist but the whole story of "cellar door" seems peculiar. Looking for some deeper meaning of these words sound beautiful I found this: http://www.readin.org/class/Educators/Reynolds/Archives/pr4.doc So not only Tolkien found this words extraordinary.

My curiusity arose. Are there more such expressions? Is there any pattern? Is it universal or depends on the language? Are there languages that have more or less such expressions? French is said to be the most fluent or "sexsiest" maybe that is the reason? Are there oposite expressions? Ones that make you feel shaky, insecure?

I wish a linguist or esthetist could say something about it.

Have a good time out there!

-- Anonymous, November 21, 2003


I'm guessing this was written after the movie donnie darko came out. And I will also venture to say that the author either made the 15 year old up, or the 15 year old simply took that from Donnie Darko... it is quite a cult classic with teens (for some reason unbeknownst to me). This article seems quite superficial and poses no question that has not already been asked. The statement that his little friends thought was something original, or totally innovative is absolutely absurd, and rather is some teenage fantasy.

I do however think it would be interesting to further look into the study of aesthetics with respect to linguistics. There are an endless amount of books on the topic if you want to head to your nearest college library. (I personally wish that I could have more time on my hands so that I could read more of them)

-- Anonymous, November 28, 2003

i'm french and i can say that even if you can think "cellar door" sounds like "c'est la d'or" in french, "c'est la d'or" means strictly nothing. (in french "cellar door" was translated by "porte de cellier", but i have to say this sound isn't really more pleasant to ear than others). i have no answer about anything in french, but i just wanted to know more about this cellar door...

-- Anonymous, December 06, 2003

i was very interested in the meaning behind "cellr door". I had expected it to be alot more complicated, but i suppose it's mainly a matter of opinion. ps. watch donnie darko, its very good, but it screws with your mind, it took me days to stop thinking about it

-- Anonymous, December 26, 2003


Don't know who cares, what this website (that I'm posting on) is, or if anyone's seen this, but it's worth a look. I found it while searching for the same answer. I have a Donnie Darko addiction. *grin*

-- Anonymous, January 15, 2004

While in the movie im sure "cellar door" does to some extent have a connection the film teh significance is limited. I think its purpose is less than it seems. I beleive it was put in the movie simply to manifest itself to become the product of which this web site is part of. We beleive there has to be a rational explanation for everything but it is possible that there is no rationality for this, Put here simply to see what the human mind will make of it creating its own story and following along the way.

-- Anonymous, January 16, 2004

I think the reason that "cellar door" was in the movie was because it led Donnie to where the kids were robbing Roberta Sparrow (Grandma Death). I think the phonetic similarities to French "C'est la D'ore" is very interesting and I wish I could talk to Tolkien. If only Donnie was still alive so I could discuss time travel. hehe. Oh well. Cellar door becomes more and more beautiful the more that I say it. I will continue to investigate this phrase. Thank you for all of your posts - they've been most helpful.

-- Anonymous, January 19, 2004

Just wanted to disagree with you all, so to speak. I don't think that the words 'Cellar Door' hold any real acoustic aesthetic. What we actually find 'pleasing' is the motion of saying the words??

-- Anonymous, January 20, 2004

i think that people have jumped on the "c'est la d'or" bandwagon much too quickly. Again, it must be stressed that it means nothing. It does not follow the basic grammatic trends/rules/anything in the French language. "C'est de l'or", however, does. but that sounds nothing like Cellar door. (translates to 'it is some gold' or 'it is gold') I will agree with a previous post in saying that the purpose of 'cellar door' (though i do believe holds a high level of aesthetic and phonetic appeal) in donnie darko was primarly as a means to further the plot, to make the connection to Roberta Sparrow, and to ultimately lead to Donnie's ultimate sacrifice. A fantastic tool.

-- Anonymous, January 22, 2004

Did anyone find out what Noam Chomsky had to say on the subject? And how would the acoustic/linguistic/pronounciation of "cellar door" relate to Drew in the movie? Is it that she would rather have heard 'cellar door' instead of 'you're fired' or 'don't let the door hit your ass on the way out' ?

-- Anonymous, February 12, 2004

Over 10 years ago I saw a play on television with the actress that dated the main singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I forget her name, Ione Skye or something...And one of her lines was "cellar door, cellar door, the two most beautiful words in the English language, cellar door." Has anyone seen this play? What is it called? I havnt seen Donnie Darko yet but sounds good.

-- Anonymous, February 13, 2004

"Cellar Door" DID bear significance in Donnie Darko. Big time. It lead him to Roberta Sparrow's cellar door which lead him to the kids robbing her, which all lead to Gretchen being in the way of the car and Donnie killing Frank, which forced him to go through the time portal and save everyone from being hurt. If he hadn't have heard "cellar door" from Drew Barrymore none of that would have happened. Maybe if you had seen the movie you would have gotten this significance. Or maybe I just read too much into things =)

-- Anonymous, February 16, 2004

On the twin subjects of French and the themes in Donnie Darko - a film about transcending /inverting binary oppositions like past/future, life/death, inside/outside ("The children destroyed his house from the inside out" etc.) - it seems to me that the doorways into/out of death/life or 'another realm', which are always supposed to be ajar on Hallow'een, are wide open in this movie, so that it becomes impossible to know what is inside and what is outside as boundaries blur. If you were going to go with a French 'soundsl ike' I'd recommend "C'est la, dehors?" Is this outside? Or Is the the way out?...

-- Anonymous, March 03, 2004

Cellar Door, the phrase is commenting on the sound of the English language. I'm a native English speaker, (not some crazed French person)so don't be offended when I say that the English language is not a very beautiful one. Its saying that of all the phrases, thousands upon thousands of them, the most boring topic of a phrase, 'cellar door' is the most beautiful. That's pretty sad.

The English language doesn't flow like others, but cellar door no matter how you say it, does. (unless of course you have a strong american accent), the- ar in cellar door, lingers, allowing it to sound like one entire word. The same as in French, where a sentence sounds like one entire word.

That's my linguistic view! But hey, I'm like five so, don't take to much notice of me.

-- Anonymous, March 06, 2004


c'est la, dohrs. I don't think the linguist who said- cellar door... blah blah, was a big fan of donnie darko.

Plus, movies like DD have no right or wrong answers anyway. Writers write them to make the viewer think- in the end they are empty stories which make they viewer condtruct their own answer...

-- Anonymous, March 06, 2004

I think its amazing how so many peoples attention was grabbed by two words in such an all around wonderful movie. I like the idea of C'est la, dehors? considering the basis of the film although I doubt that is why it was thrown in. Cellar door was just the line that connected the vital dots. I was fasinated by it though, so much that I'm naming my book just that, Cellar Door. But still, I wish I knew which 'famous linguist' had said it, although I probably never will considering how much dispute there is over it.

-- Anonymous, March 07, 2004

You must not have read much of this thread. There is no dispute at all about who actually said this. It was JR Tolkien.

-- Anonymous, March 08, 2004

just as a painter may use his hands to please the eye, similar attempt are made to use vocals to please the ears. art critics can spend most of there lives searching for hidden meanings within what may seem at first site insignificant paintings, and so there is no suprise that a discussion like this may arise. We are bound by curiosity, it is only when you find reason that you find there is no reason, it seems that we can never accept the sheer simplicity of our existence, the human condition. cellar door is what it is

-- Anonymous, March 11, 2004

Interestingly enough, despite its apparent francophonic leanings, "cellar door" was cited for its beauty by JRR Tolkien, a linguist who did not share the common infatuation with the French language. He was much more enthralled with the Welsh and Finnish languages, and thought them the most beautiful that he had encountered. In all fairness, there were doubtless many languages that he never heard spoken or read written, but he did like these two the most among European languages. For anyone whose curiosity on the topic extends beyond this thread of discussion, Tolkien wrote an essay about his linguistic obsessions, entitled "My Secret Vice". Apparently, he built the entire LotR universe around the two Elvish languages he created, Qenya and Sindarin, based on Finnish and Welsh, respectively.

-- Anonymous, April 02, 2004

Being no expert on linguistics, Poe or Tolkien my comments here may have very little weight. As an aspiring artist (in whatever medium I may chose to express myself in far down the road) I find the use of language fascinating and felt the need to post a comment here one night after watching Donnie Darko. "Cellar Door" interested me a lot the first time I heard it's significance mentioned in the movie. Who knows? Maybe it's just the power of suggestion at work here but I think there's a larger meaning behind it all, all of it, not just that one phrase. Language itself, art, the poetic genius, the soul (whatever that might be), perpetual entropy, order in chaos. I think about these things from a gnostic's point of veiw and wonder if there is a plan, a God, if the world is imperfect because it was created that way. I wonder how life on this planet was even possible and on nights like this facing these questions, knowing full well I may never find the answers, I'm compelled to submit comments like this. Please tell me I'm being absurd. Tell me life is simple. Tell me that a small sphere of silicates obribiting an M class star in a spiral galaxy can just spawn life forms that evolve to the point where they can post comments of message boards on the "internet." Either it all means something or it means absolutely nothing outside of our own very narrow perceptions of the universe. Tell me that life is a joke, because it scares me enough to make me laugh about it sometimes in an ironic sort of way.

-- Anonymous, April 10, 2004

On another website, during a discussion just like this, someone comment that he disagreed that "Cellar Door" was the most beautiful phrase, but suggested that "Lemon Row" was better. I disagree with both. Although I have a complete fascination with "Cellar Door" and am having it tattooed on myself in the near future, I think it's the signifigance that J.R.R. Tolkien has on society that has made this phrase so compelling. I believe that the 'D' in "Door" and the "n" in 'lemon' are both unpleasing and harshly pronounced letters. I don't have a suggestion for a better combination, because I don't wish to show up one of the greatest linguists of the century. But I do agree with a previous comment made on this page that if a study was done where "Cellar Door" was not introduced to the environment, there could be numerous combinations. I propose this. Although this sentence is not correct in english, would we be so fascinated if it were spelled "seller door". I think the signifigance the word has it's based on it's meaning as well.

-- Anonymous, April 17, 2004

this was neither Tolkien, nor Poe. It was, I am sure, either Derrida or S.T. Coleridge. Its bugging the "f" out of me, where I am am the top of the cellar stairs thinking it over, its that bad.

-- Anonymous, April 17, 2004

Hi. I too was dragged onto this thread because of Donnie Darko. I have to agree with the author of the last post. I cannot even find a clue for the statement that "cellar door" is beatiful. English language is not a beatiful language! I really do prefer the portuguese one (from wich i'm native). Take the example: "Adeus do fado menor" (you can hear it rightly pronounced in the "Da Vida Quero os Sinais" track in the Garra dos Sentidos album by Misia). The way each letter, each syllable flows is just so elegant. The DD are not harsh at all, as it is in Door.

As for the French, a language wich I absolutely adore, I have found another similar expression to "Cellar Door" - "C'est l'adore". Although I think this discussion is somewhat empty.

And another thing: Donnie Darko can have varied interpretations, but that doesn't mean that there were no intention, as to say a message. I've heard the most enormous absurdities about Donnie Darko, i.e. wrong, sensless interpretations. I think that the message of the film is rather religious.

I'll not bore you more. Adeus

-- Anonymous, April 18, 2004

While I think those who've mentioned that this discussion leads DD to Ms. Sparrow's cellar door later in the movie have a point. And it is fancinating how many people have focused on these two words after viewing Donnie Darko. I think there is another reason this was included in the movie. During the PTA meeting there is an arguement about Drew B.'s character using Graham Greene's story in her class. Later, when she finds out she is being fired she gives a great speech about getting through to the kids they are trying to teach and how current methods are not working. Maybe "Cellar Door" was put on the board before she realized she was out of a job. And just as this forum on the net is doing, she hoped to stimulate discussion in her classroom. Another example of why her teaching methods were "unexceptable". So with two words the writer/director, forwards the plot, further develops a character and screws with the heads of the audience.

-- Anonymous, April 30, 2004

It was said earlier that the English language does not sound as beautiful as any other. I think that when considering the appeal of the phrase "cellar door", one must consider that a language sounds more beautiful to someone who can not speak it. I think French sounds very beautiful but perhaps to someone who speaks it fluently it sounds very plain. Those who fluently speak a language focus more on the meaning of words rather than on the way they sound.

I agree that 'cellar door' was probably a tool to further the plot. I think the notion behind the phrase fits well with some other abstract theories brought out in the film(ie. time travel, life/death, etc.). I love this movie because it really encourages discussion and thought. For anyone looking to understand the movie better, I strongly recommend the donnie darko website, if you have not already been.

-- Anonymous, May 02, 2004

Google also brought me to this thread, while I was doing a search to find out the same thing.

-- Anonymous, May 11, 2004

I believe its one of those read between the line meanings...just like in the movie the butterfly effect...during the kiddie porn scene. its ironic how they were acting out "robin hood".. yet the guy filming is really robbing the childs childhood. could be one of those thigns...never know.

-- Anonymous, May 12, 2004

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-- Anonymous, May 15, 2004

I think that I like more what a word means rather than how it sounds. I'm more interested in that. However I think this phrase "Cellar Door" sounds fine but it is totally a matter of opinion to think it is the best sounding phrase or even the worst sounding. More importantly, I think it matters how you say the word. For example, phrases and words used everyday can be made to sound better by exceptional singers. As well as people who have good pronounciation and tone or whatever type you prefer. That aside, I'm sure you could find a alot of words that flow as well if not better than Cellar Door. I think it is more imperative you find out why this linguist said that. Besides that he believed it sounded pleasing. Who did he say it to? What motivated him to say that? I'm sure you were already wondering all that. Why did the teacher in the movie say that though? What was happening at that exact point in the movie that it would be appropriate for her to say that? Whether Tolkein or Poe said that, while famous, respected and genius in their own right, just because one said it does not make it true. It is their opinion and I think they understood that. I find it hard to believe anyone could even imgained all the phrases in the english language, Celler Door is just the most beautiful he came across. Regardless, it is still to be proven if it sounds the best above all.

-- Anonymous, May 22, 2004

could the Tolkien explanation also be the basis for the name of the character of Isildur in the Lord Of The Rings? As it does sound somewhat similar to 'cellar door'.

-- Anonymous, May 25, 2004

Way back in 1990 or so, when I was studying drama in college, I was looking for a piece to use for an audition at one of the major reperatory theatres in my city. The piece I ended up using was from a play where the character I was reading extolled the aural virtues of the phrase "cellar door". The audtition went well, and while the piece itself has slipped into mental obscurity for me, I have many times quoted it to myself and others, and had, indeed, personally come to feel "cellar door" were two of the most beautiful words in the english language.

I was floored when I saw that scene in Donnie Darko. While I had forgotten the play, which contained--obviously--several hundred, if not several thousand words--those two stuck with me all these years.

Man. What was that play?


-- Anonymous, June 12, 2004

My son and I are big fans of DD (its his favourite movie) and the other night bells started ringing when I came across the cellar door reference in one of Tolkien's essays. Here's what he says:

"Most English-speaking people...will admit that cellar door is 'beautiful', especially if dissociated from its sense (and from its spelling). More beautiful than, say, sky, and far more beautiful than beautiful. Well then, in Welsh for me cellar doors are extraordinarily frequent, and moving to the higher dimension, the words in which there is pleasure in the contemplation of the association of form and sense are abundant." He then lists concrete examples like Welsh wybren being "more pleasing" than English sky.

The point is, for Tolkien, languages have a 'pure' aesthetic quality which actually relates to the original sense of the words, although that original sense may have long been covered up or even lost over the centuries. I think he would agree that English, overall, is not that beautiful (partly at least because its such a hybrid of anglo-saxon, norman french, latin ...) but Welsh and Finnish, in particular, did have an abundance of this aesthetic quality.

I also think the director of DD simply forgot the original reference to cellar door - its a complex movie with lots of connections like this. cheers, Steven

-- Anonymous, June 16, 2004

Not disputing what Tolkien said I recall reading some years ago that "Cellar Door" was one of a number of words/phrases selected as the most phonetically beautiful in the English language. This survey if I remember right was apparently conducted in France around 60 years ago and garnered opinion from many famous writers of the day. However, I think that this particular phrase was initially selected by a Chinese student.

Another chosen word was Melody and I believe that this was the most popular.

Of course, there may have been earlier surveys or agreements on this and the records are merely lost.

That's my ten pence.

-- Anonymous, June 16, 2004

Donnie Darko is a pattern of spirals encircling phi and by the end of the movie, the space time continuum has become so distorted that the spirals reverse into chaos and away from the order of phi. Cellar Door symbolizes the irony of judging a book by its cover; though the phrase sounds quite euphonic, the actual cellar door brought Donnie darkness, death, fear and loathing. In other words, it goes with Donnie and the portal snakes, without order there is chaos. How could any of the movie transpired, had Donnie chosen to rebel order.

-- Anonymous, June 16, 2004

while i agree that there is a phonetic, rhythmic, and somewhat lyrical pleasantness to the phrase 'cellar door', i disagree that it is the most pleasant phrase available to us through the near endless variants of the english language. considering the fact that there are, what, alef-null combinations of words in the english language, 'cellar door' can hardly be the most pleasing. i know that 'i love you' is the most pleasing in my life, for emotional reasons, though it is somewhat awkward for the palate and tongue. 'mysterious' is a very beautiful word to me, as it evokes exactly the feeling that its inherent intent contains. regardless of any linguistic, rhythmic or phonetic qualities or arguments relating to this phrase, I think there may be another level hidden within this. 'cellar door' is the entrance to a level of a house that is below the normal living levels, to a level that is not normally seen. a level in which we store things, whether they be wine or boxes of memorabilia or sleds in summer and kites in winter. the cellar is the repository of the unused, of the subliminal. perhaps the device of 'cellar door' in the movie Donnie Darko is related to the aspect of the sub- or unconscious, of the driving force that lives in the dark. much of the movie relates to forces that work unseen, of chance happenings whose orchestration is unbeknownst to us. whatever the ultimate purpose of the story of Donnie Darko, one thing that seems clear to me is the aspect of co-incidence. Frank is Donnie's mentor and slavemaster. Frank is the instrumental force that enables the climax. he drives Donnie to the point in time-space in which Donnie's reason for this month of life is revealed. the only reason that Donnie lives for this time is to receive Frank's directives, to flood the school to meet Gretchen, to burn Jim's house down to replace that bitch teacher with his mother on the trip with Sparkle Motion, to have them be a part of the redeye flight which loses its engine to the wormhole that engineers his destruction. I don't feel that his death is the sacrifice that keeps the other deaths from happening. I feel that the twenty-eight days he experiences after his death is an expression of the travels of the soul after death and the righting of karmic imbalances that his life has created. in that vein, i feel that 'cellar door' communicates the need for him to reconcile his conscious and unconscious minds. Frank is the representative from his subconscious, the flagholder of his ego. 'cellar door' is the pathway to personal unity. Drew's involvement with this is a symbol of an enlightened perspective. she is the teacher i wish i had in high school. she is someone that feels the students as peers, and wishes to guide them along their educational path instead of just doing her job. i think i like 'jabberwocky' more than 'cellar door'. i like the fricative rhythm of c.s. lewis' made-up word more than the faux-french scansion of 'cellar door'. i think the english infatuation with the romantic / passionate appearance of the french language feeds the apparent appeal of the phrase 'cellar door'. this is exemplified by the focus on possible french homophones displayed in this thread. the use of 'cellar door' as a simple plot vehicle seems a little more ham-handed than the rest of the plot for Donnie Darko. perhaps i'm engaging in simple wish fulfillment when i express the opinion that it means something more. having his teacher create the reality of the cellar door in order for Donnie to open it to further the plot seems a little contrived, and a bit of the 'deus ex machina' that Drew talks about in a deleted scene. it's certainly no historic failure on the part of the author to include such a device; it does seem a bit in contrast with the rest of the movie for there to be such a simple resolution and an obvious contrivance. i don't pretend to have a studied literary background; i don't even begin to guess at where the origin of the idea of 'cellar door's prominence as a preferred english phrase began. as i sit here, i admit that there is a lyrical attraction to that phrase, and i can't properly think of a more attractive phrase. it is five in the morning, and i have consumed enough wine to appreciate my limits. i'm simply positing the idea that there is another meaning to the phrase, and that the appropriation of poe's or tolkien's or whoever's initial idea is more than as simple plot device, and that it is a representation of the hidden, subconscious aspect of life to which we must be reconciled in order to complete and fulfill our lives before passing on to the next level. my $.02


-- Anonymous, June 21, 2004

i might add one thing to my previous post: i forget whether or not this has been addressed in this thread, but there seems to be an obvious connection to the idea of the underworld. the cellar door is the access to a world beneath ours, which has been seen by many cultures as the world we inhabit after this life, probably inspired by the fact that we bury our dead and that the remains of the living are consumed by the earth. upon entering the cellar door, Donnie sets in motion actions that deliver Frank, Gretchen, and therefore himself into the world of the dead, the underworld. perhaps the attraction towards the phrase 'cellar door' that Drew's character speaks of is the attraction that the world of the dead has for Donnie, as he is existing in a reality defined by the distance between the end of his life and his death. now that i think about it, 'rhythm' is a magnificent word. as is the simple syllable 'life'. meditation on that word alone brings amazing energies into play. phonemes are building blocks of higher (more encompassing) states of existence. the stochastic nature of language as a higher cortical function expresses our ability to transcend the apprehended reality and manifest novelty. maybe i'm reading too much into the screenwriter's intent, but i believe that 'cellar door' is a multi-functional phrase, and that it serves as a plot device for enabling Donnie to open Roberta Sparrow's cellar door, as well as a symbol for reaching the subconscious, as well as a teacher's last teaching to a loved student, as well as an embedded, open-ended message to the audience as a comment on our ability to control our destiny. remember, the physics teacher (played by Noah Wyle) danced around the notion of free will vs. predestination with Donnie before retreating from the conversation in fear of his job. i'm probably extrapolating mist from stone here.


-- Anonymous, June 21, 2004

I think it's interesting how some of the people here have made a connection between the words "cellar door" and several phrases in French, considering J.R.R. Tolkien never was very fond of the language.

-- Anonymous, June 22, 2004

Anyone ever thought it sounds vaguely like "Stella Artois" the beer, I know thats a far out one but hey, there it is..

-- Anonymous, June 24, 2004

Before I ever saw Donnie Darko, I always thought the word cellar was pleasing to say and hear. More particularly say. I was so suprized after seeing the movie....but I never added the 'door'. Although, once said, Cellar Door is nice too. I think it looks nice as well. I find it so amazing that we as a group of people can find one particular word/words beautiful. I am very interested in aesthetics and this just tickles me.

-- Anonymous, June 28, 2004

i think clasps is the best word ever...just say it...clasps...it's fun. wasps is ok too. but not like clasps. everyone on this page (including myself) is friggin nuts.

-- Anonymous, July 15, 2004

celery drawer

-- Anonymous, July 16, 2004

Just saw the new Director's Cut of the movie at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Much better than the previous theatrical release. In attendance were the director, producer, cinematographer, as well as several of the actors and actresses. After the movie there was a Q & A and I raised my hand to ask about the infamous "cellar door," but alas, the man with the mic overlooked me and finally we ran out of time, so I didn't get a chance to ask. Sorry folks. I tried. CHUT UP!

-- Anonymous, July 16, 2004

There is another connection that cellar door has in the movie-- the cellar door of "Evil Dead," the movie that Donnie and Gretchen are watching the night he burns Cunningham's house down. This begs us to connect the two worlds of "Evil Dead" -- the world of the living and the world of the dead -- with the two (or more!) worlds of Donnie Darko -- the universe in which he lives and the universe in which he dies/ is dead. I would even go one step farther and take a look at the second movie that was playing at the theatre, "The Last Temptation of Christ." Am I the only one who thinks that this is a strange film (to say the least!) to be playing with "Evil Dead"? Consider the theme of the "Temptation," sacrifice; this is what Donnie does, and he saves the lives, and, arguably, the world of those around him. And, the fact that "Temptation's" Jesus seems to be dreaming his whole ordeal, much like Donnie seems to be. Any thoughts on this?

-- Anonymous, July 16, 2004

why don't you guys make like a cellar door and close this thread HAHAHAHA,hilight of the day, but it is only 3 A.M.

-- Anonymous, July 26, 2004

I think it is noteworthy that Drew Barrymore put misinformation on the chalkboard. I find it hard to believe that such an erroneous attribution would have made it out of the studio. Thus, it was a deliberate error. The teacher gives false information. She knows beauty, but is wrong about its source. It fits with the school's reasons for terminating her. Think about it.

And speaking as a native Bostonian, I see a smacking resemblence between "cellar door" and the popular cookie brand Stella Dora. What does this mean? Absolutely nothing.

-- Anonymous, August 13, 2004

hey there my fellow intellects and academia alike. I wish to put forth my well laden and highly respected opinion regarding this matter of gargantuan proportions. The "cellar door" anomoly as authors and philosophers refer to it, has its roots in the 1st century before christ. It was then utilised by the Great Grandfather of Donnie Darko as a means of entering his cellar, much as a door would enable entrance to a normal room. The point is my compatriots, that if any female english girls feel the requirement to meet up with me and devour my supiour intellect regarding all English matters please do not hesitate to contact me. As for now, my favourite word has to ultimatly be..........CUNT.

Goodbye compatriots

-- Anonymous, August 17, 2004

if a=1 and b=2 etc. then then c+e+l+l+a+r+d+o+o+r = 103 and is prime Jesus Christ (151), Sherlock Holmes (163), Doctor Watson (167) and Scooby Doo (113) are also all prime. Scooby Doo is a bit of a detective. C'est la dehors (126) is not prime but Stella artois (151) is! AND scores the same as Jesus! I am grateful to Mark Haddon (89, prime) for this way of seeing things. Yours, Simon Masters (165, not prime) Arguably past his prime and certainly past his bedtime!)

-- Anonymous, August 20, 2004

I ,myself think that "cellar door" means when someone has made a lot of bad choices and you end up bitter and lonely. My friend once told me to figure out what "cellar door" meant and he never told me but that is what I think. By the way I have never seen the movie Donnie Darko.

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2004

*What's the story with "cellar door"?*

Donnie visits Ms. Pomeroy, who has been fired. She has written the words "cellar door" on her blackboard and tells him that a "famous linguist" declared them the most beautiful words in the English language.

Ms. Pomeroy's vague attribution of the quote to a "famous linguist" was, I assume, mandated by the legal department; it's hard to get a handle on who first claimed those two words to be the most beautiful in the English language. I've seen it attributed to Pound, Poe, Tolkien, Mencken and a Chinese student of Mencken's who knew no English.

سنی اسلام

-- Anonymous, November 11, 2004


-- Anonymous, November 22, 2004

i am from the cheese factory

-- Anonymous, November 22, 2004

This is just a wild stab, but I'm going to take a Fruedian approach at why the word "Celler Door" is so pleasing to the ear for some people, if not for me. The tounge is put into some over abundant use being needed to pronounce the two L's, as well as the R in "cellar", and the final R in door. Maybe the people who like these words have an uncommon oral fixation on words that use the tounge abundantly. We must never underestimate the sex drive in the common human body.

-- Anonymous, December 06, 2004

Im not sure if anyones said this yet and its probably not true but... Perhaps its not "Cellar Door" thats so Attractive. I think its the fact that Cellar Door is the Last thing Anyone (or so I thought) would call beautiful. Its Finding Somthing Beatiful in somthing overlooked for Ugly or just Worthless

-- Anonymous, December 07, 2004

Though I am not sure about historical validity, there is a strong link between Edgar Allen Poe and the phrase "cellar door". When watching the movie Donnie Darko, I immediatly commented that "cellar door" was a Poe reference. I think my 9th grade English teacher mentioned it to me (for everyone convinced of the power of suggestion, this class took place many years before DD was written). Anyway, a Poe reference strongly relates to the films theme of fear. Like he character Jim Cunningham, Poe thought the two strongest emotions were fear and love, and therefore the most beautiful. It was his contention that fear was the easist to portray, and that the best literature had to have something beautiful, fear of something bad, and finally loss.

-- Anonymous, December 24, 2004

I first heard the "cellar door" phrase explained in the play a few people have mentioned. ("It's Called The Sugar Plum" by Israel Horovitz) They just put it on at my school this fall (Baldwin Wallace College). Then I was recently watching Donnie Darko which I have seen once before and heard the cellar door monologue. Something clicked. So I googled it and it lead me to this thread. Hopefully I answered all your burning questions about the name of that play! =)

Cheers, Sarah

-- Anonymous, January 08, 2005

People that think "'cellar door' form(s) the most perfectly pleasing sound to the human ear" only beleives this because it is suggested to them. Most likely the originator of this used it as a test to see the power of suggestion. How many of you thought "cellar door" is the most beautiful set of words in the english language? For example: -- Kevin McAllister (Goldfinger_Kevo@hotmail.com), January 19, 2004. (wrote) "Cellar door becomes more and more beautiful the more that I say it."

-- Anonymous, January 10, 2005

hmm. I think it is beautiful. but then again, i'm a donnie darko lover...so. im not quite sure.

-- Anonymous, January 16, 2005

After watching donnie Darko i was also perplexed by its significance as well, i think all of your links to the french language are great ideas. However you are forgetting that Drew mentions that it is one of the most beautiful words in the ENGLISH language so therefore i find that if it does have any significance i would be only persuaded to use an english based conclusion.

-- Anonymous, January 17, 2005

Somebody needs to explain this to me... how you disassociate the meaning of a word or phrase from the way it sounds? Seems to me that the only way to determine the most pleasant sounding word/phrase would be through polling of non-English speakers.

-- Anonymous, January 27, 2005

Just a small curiousity that will probably shed no light: I'm rereading "A World Out of Time" by Larry Niven; a very cool book, copyright 1976. It's about a guy who travels through time, eventually going several million years into the future. At one point in his journey he awakes into a society where he is virtually a slave, not allowed to learn anything about the world as it is then. The name of the city, Selerdor, is mentioned one time by his captor and twice more later inthe book. So I'm thinking, time travel novel written in 1976, Selerdor, "cellar door", Donnie Darko. I google it and nothing, but give me a break! Our protagonist's destination (in the book) after time travel is the mysterious city Selerdor, about which he knows nothing. After leaving Selerdor, he rebels and deviates from the destiny planned for him by the denizens of that place and time travels some more. Coincidence? Maybe. Either way it's a very good (and short) book which I highly recommend. Wish I could find some sort of connection.

-- Anonymous, February 01, 2005

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