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Sell a cellar, door a cellar, sell a cellar cellar-door, door adore, adore a door, selling cellar, door a cellar, cellar cellar-door.
February 25, 2010 10:48 PM   Subscribe

'Cellar Door' is a beautiful phrase, and not only to Donnie's teacher. J.R.R Tolkien, Dorothy Parker, C.S. Lewis, among other authors were and are fans of this esoteric little gem of linguistic history.
posted by Taft (59 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
note: you'll want to watch the video on Youtube, the embedded version doesn't skip to the right part.
posted by Taft at 10:50 PM on February 25, 2010


Cellar Door: C'est L'adore
posted by ashaw at 11:01 PM on February 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


I've wondered about the history of the phrase! Cool post!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:01 PM on February 25, 2010


While this may or may not have been the intention, I saw the scene in Donnie Darko as a narrative device, showing that even the "good" teachers subscribed to equally arbitrary and dogmatic beliefs as the "Fear and Love" spectrum. The only difference was that it adhered to his preconceptions, so he accepted it without question instead of being a wiseass about it.

"Cellar door" is just three generic syllables. It means the entrance to a cellar. That's all. Sorry if that shatters your worldview.

On the other hand, "plate of beans" is objectively the most beautiful phrase in any language... except English.
posted by Riki tiki at 11:07 PM on February 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


Also: Playmate

"...Shout down my rain barrel,
slide down my cellar door,
and we'll be jolly friends,
forevermore!"
posted by SLC Mom at 11:11 PM on February 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd heard it was Poe's doing. He supposedly had a great love for the long 'o,' the 'l,' and the 'r' sound. 'Lenore,' for instance or 'El Dorado.' Or 'Edgar Allen Poe,' and of course 'cellar door.'

Made sense when I heard it.

On review of Riki Tiki:

Random number generator
for you broken meaning-maker
poor things got its switched locked in 'on'
and it projects all your thoughts
on the stars and scatter plots
and it connects all the dots

posted by es_de_bah at 11:17 PM on February 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


O.o
posted by Riki tiki at 11:20 PM on February 25, 2010


cuspidor
posted by exlotuseater at 11:31 PM on February 25, 2010


Conquistador?
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:34 PM on February 25, 2010


There is no scientific proof that the phonemes of cellar door are particularly pleasing to the English-speaker’s ear.

Except for the alveolar plosive in the middle, one could make a case for mellifluousness based on the sonority scale.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:46 PM on February 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Cellar door" created an appropriately despairing introduction in Neil Young's "Needle and the Damage Done". I always wondered if old Neil had cribbed that phrase from Tolkien but I never bothered to try to connect the dots until now. Thankfully, neither this article nor the wikipedia page mention it. I actually prefer leaving it mystery.
posted by quadog at 11:55 PM on February 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


A linguistic '23'. Nice.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:00 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


iamkimiam: Except for the alveolar plosive in the middle, one could make a case for mellifluousness based on the sonority scale.

Okay, first of all, I had to look up almost every word in your comment, which bruised my mind grapes. But you definitely knew your shit talking about linguistics at that DC meetup, so I trust you on this.

But if the "duh" sound is what makes "cellar door" the most pleasing expression, shouldn't "dead dandruff" be better?
posted by Riki tiki at 12:02 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hmmm. My literature teacher my senior year of high school told us it was "ice box," not "cellar door."

I guess the poem I wrote around that a few years later isn't as awesome as I thought it was.
posted by weston at 12:03 AM on February 26, 2010


the beaked ladle plies the chuckling ice
posted by exlotuseater at 12:17 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hmmm. My literature teacher my senior year of high school told us it was "ice box," not "cellar door."

I guess the poem I wrote around that a few years later isn't as awesome as I thought it was.


Let's test this one:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

-versus-

I have eaten
the plums
that were behind
the cellar door

I'm calling this as Icebox 1, Cellar door 0.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:30 AM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Cellar door" is just three generic syllables.

Generic syllables? No such thing. Let's beanplate:

*The phrase is cretic - one unstressed syllable flanked by two stressed. (Cellar door.) Not a particularly prominent foot in English, thought it has its honorable precedents.

The interest of an isolated cretic foot is all in the issue of balance: the stressed syllables are weighed against each other as though in the pans of a scale. I would say that, on the strength of that plosive that iamkimiam mentioned, door is much the heavier of the two; so much so that the phrase is close to an anapest. But cell's position is strengthened by it's proximity to ar, and so it is that if the syllables are not quite balanced, the words themselves are even in the scales - a lighter, longer word against a heavier, shorter word. Irregularity is reconciled to order.

*Of more visual than aural interest: two letters repeat in the precise middle of each word.

*Etymology: "Cellar" is of Latin origin (cella, small room, storeroom, silo; related to celare, to conceal). "Door" is classic Anglo-Saxon (dor and duru). Perhaps the phrase draws some activating tension from the combination?

*Each word fades out on an r. Not by itself something to write home about, but consider that the pronunciation of "r" varies tremendously from dialect to dialect. Look again at C.S. Lewis' phonetic spelling: Selladore. He's swallowing the the final r in "cellar!" The words, spoken, strongly express the accent of their speaker. Even if they are not in the most beautiful words in the language, they at least have distinct places in each of English's variations.
posted by Iridic at 12:46 AM on February 26, 2010 [17 favorites]


As I recall, Tolkien was praising the Welsh language, which had many euphonious phrases like this. He was regretting that English didn't have more.
posted by Major Tom at 12:58 AM on February 26, 2010


Look again at C.S. Lewis' phonetic spelling: Selladore. He's swallowing the the final r in "cellar!"

Probably not so much swallowing, as simply not pronouncing at all. American dialects are the ones heaviest on pronouncing final 'r's. Australian English would likewise be "selladore".
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:00 AM on February 26, 2010


I always hear this phrase in a thick New England accent in my mind; I think this improves upon it a bit. Sort of adds a syllable.

cella do-wa
posted by theredpen at 1:12 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Selidor.
posted by verstegan at 1:20 AM on February 26, 2010


Metafilter: Let's beanplate.



file under: why Metafilter is better.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:36 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd heard it was Poe's doing.

Quoth the raven, "Cellar door."
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:44 AM on February 26, 2010 [14 favorites]


I saw Donnie Darko for the first time only a couple of months ago.

When I saw the "cellar door" scene I was thinking "Cellar door. Beautiful? Cellar door. Cellardoor? Selladaw? Selador, maybe? Yeah, I suppose it can sound like an ancient warrior - like Saladin. But meh, I still don't get it. It's beautiful, is it?!"

Then when I jumped on the 'net afterwards to make sure it wasn't all BS, I was absolutely rapt to find out Tolkien had a similar line of thought to mine.

But to single those two words out? Nah, I still don't get it. I reckon "penal servitude" is just as beautiful. Or about 100 other two word combinations I could pull out of my ass if I could be bothered.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 2:16 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


As I recall, Tolkien was praising the Welsh language

I think you are correct. I assumed the Wiki link would be in the FPP. I assumed wrong.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 2:20 AM on February 26, 2010


F. Scott Fitzgerald didn't like it. "'Cellar-Door? Ugh!'" Quoth Baltimore Writers.
posted by The Mouthchew at 2:24 AM on February 26, 2010


And there's the production company Celador who came up with Who Want To Be Millionaire
posted by Brian Lux at 3:31 AM on February 26, 2010


I caught you knockin' at my cellar door
I love you, baby, can I have some more
Ooh, ooh, the damage done
posted by chillmost at 3:58 AM on February 26, 2010


I know a great bar called the Cellar Door.
posted by Summer at 4:03 AM on February 26, 2010


The cellar door hinge
has rusted orange
posted by bendybendy at 4:04 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think ashaw's nailed it: sounds like French, doesn't it.
posted by puppygalore at 4:14 AM on February 26, 2010


Salidar?
posted by spasm at 4:21 AM on February 26, 2010


"Cellar door"? Really? Just considered as pure sound, it's got a kind of rustling/burbling glutinous quality that makes me think it's the last thing a shoggoth victim hears.*



*Right before "Tekeli-li!", obviously, but work with me here.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:42 AM on February 26, 2010


I've never been partial to 'cellar door'; it's always sounded a bit clunky to my ear. But I've always loved 'leviathan'.

Try it.

leviathan

leviathan

It's like the steady undulation of a whale's spine, or the entire rolling ocean in a word.
posted by Alison at 4:45 AM on February 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


Stella D'Oro. And this quote has to be the stupidest thing Mencken said: “Poetry, in fact, is two quite distinct things. It may be either or both. One is a series of words that are intrinsically musical, in clang-tint and rhythm, as the single word cellar-door is musical. The other is a series of ideas, false in themselves, that offer a means of emotional and imaginative escape from the harsh realities of everyday.” Even by 1920s standards poetry had a lot more than music and escapism.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:53 AM on February 26, 2010


Excelsior!
posted by Pollomacho at 5:02 AM on February 26, 2010


SLC Mom -- when I was a kid -- three score and ten years ago -- it was "Climb up my rain barrel."
My daughters sang "Climb up my rainbow."
posted by RichardS at 5:08 AM on February 26, 2010


Maybe ashaw is on the right track - one of the earliest references given in the article is to an Italian, who might have been joking about 'Se l'adore' or something (is that actually Italian?)?

And good grief, Brian Lux, I always assumed that Celador was started by Rod and Alec.
posted by Phanx at 5:10 AM on February 26, 2010


Don't you make me agree with Uncanny Hengeman. Just because you're all Yanks, that's not fair.

Also, shit film, why am I here?
posted by pompomtom at 5:19 AM on February 26, 2010


The cellar dor is an open throat.
posted by valkyryn at 5:19 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


cellar doors are pretty sweet though, you can go in them and then you're all like down in this dark room full of old secrets and tools, the phrase doesn't sound unpleasant and it makes you think of home and dad??? thumbs up from me
posted by mbrock at 5:23 AM on February 26, 2010


The Cellar Door was a D.C. bar that I spent 1 or 500 lost nights in.

Oh, the good old days.

Get off my lawn.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:49 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


How is it spoken aloud?

"sella doe"
or
"sel-err doe-wur"
?
posted by fuq at 6:35 AM on February 26, 2010


Conan O'Brien's production company is called Celador, a reference to the beautiful phrase.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:50 AM on February 26, 2010


I just wanted to register my disgust that no one in this thread has made fun of Donnie Darko yet.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:00 AM on February 26, 2010


Oh come on, shakespeherian. Donnie Darko's tons of fun.

Except for drew Barrymore (who has the cellar door line). Every now and then she can act, but in Donnie Darko she sounds like she's learning how to speak on camera, or like she's straining to read cue cards held by an epileptic man a little too far across the set.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:17 AM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Donnie Darko's tons of fun.

It was, but I made the mistake of listening to Richard Kelly's commentary track in which he kindly explains that the movie isn't enigmatic, it's merely a story about a comic book superhero and also time travel and also parallel universes and also elemental mythology that requires the Living Receiver to collapse the Tangent Universe by bringing the Manipulated Living close enough to be killed by the Artifact so Donnie uses his magic powers to open a portal between universes and what do you mean you didn't get it.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:44 AM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I decided not to see the director's cut of Donnie Darko when I found out that 1. It makes the movie all serious and less fun and 2. They take Echo and the Bunnymen out of the opening sequence. That song's sound pretty much defines the movie for me (as in, I hear it in my head right now, and any time the movie's discussed. Doo doo do do doo doo . . .)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:43 AM on February 26, 2010


The Donnie Darko Director's Cut is a solid argument against auteur theory.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:05 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is this something I have to be an English speaker to appreciate? Sorry, I only speak American (and Danish, but that's not helping me here).
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 11:05 AM on February 26, 2010


It was, but I made the mistake of listening to Richard Kelly's commentary track

In a similar vein, after seeing it the first time I made the mistake of looking up the website, which wasn't bad and had a lot of the background information. However, Donnie Darko is a wonderful, haunting, enigmatic movie until you find out what it's actually about, whereupon it becomes oddly arbitrary, unnecessarily convoluted and almost entirely risible. Sometimes you really should pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
posted by Sparx at 12:14 PM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


However, Donnie Darko is a wonderful, haunting, enigmatic movie until you find out what it's actually about, whereupon it becomes oddly arbitrary, unnecessarily convoluted and almost entirely risible. Sometimes you really should pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Yeah, that's exactly it.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:19 PM on February 26, 2010


Geoff Nunberg takes a crack at the subject.
posted by languagehat at 1:42 PM on February 26, 2010


Trevanian, the pen name of Rodney Whitaker, wrote a character in love with the sound of the word Wyoming.
posted by xod at 2:12 PM on February 26, 2010


SLC Mom: Also: Playmate
"...Shout down my rain barrel,
slide down my cellar door,
and we'll be jolly friends,
forevermore!"


Ever since I first heard this song as a kid, I recall feeling a vague sense that the lyrics were entirely about sex. "Climb my apple tree"? And does the cellar door mean anal, or do I just have a filthy mind? ("Taking the service entrance" is my favorite term for anal, incidentally.)
posted by TreeHugger at 5:20 PM on February 26, 2010


Filthy mind.
Definitely a filthy mind.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:36 PM on February 26, 2010


Some of my favorite words.
I used to get lost in Wordnik.
posted by prithee at 5:49 PM on February 26, 2010


Chapman: Oh, thank you, dear. There's a funny thing, dear -- all the naughty words sound woody.
posted by SPrintF at 7:27 PM on February 26, 2010


Iridic: The phrase is cretic - one unstressed syllable flanked by two stressed. (Cellar door.) Not a particularly prominent foot in English, thought it has its honorable precedents.

es_de_bah: I'd heard it was Poe's doing. He supposedly had a great love for the long 'o,' the 'l,' and the 'r' sound. 'Lenore,' for instance or 'El Dorado.' Or 'Edgar Allen Poe,' and of course 'cellar door.'

Hmm. Tamerlane. Tamerlane. Tamerlane.
posted by Leon at 5:19 AM on February 28, 2010


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