The pleasant, harmonious sounds words create when they hit the ear. Euphonic language has a musical, melodic quality: it is smooth and natural. But it is more than pleasant sounds: it is also pleasant images or ideas; it is the pleasing way in which the writer presents a concept or image to the reader. Generally, writers will use euphonic language in their descriptions of characters, setting, and interactions.
Let’s look at an example from Virginia Woolf’s short story “The Duchess and the Jeweler”
“And as a wave breaks, she broke, as she sat down, spreading and splashing and falling over Oliver Bacon, the great jeweler, covering him with sparkling bright colors, green, rose, violet; and odors; and iridescences; and rays shooting from fingers, nodding from plumes, flashing from silk…”
Here, the narrator is describing not only the clothing of the Duchess, but also the effect she has when she enters the room and takes a seat in front of Oliver. The repetition of sounds creates a smooth rhythm, and the imagery is bright and pleasant: lots of colors and light.
Let’s look at another example. This one is from the short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
“The water, however, continued to gush and sparkle into the sunbeams as cheerfully as ever. A little gurgling sound ascended to the young man’s window, and made him feel as if the fountain were an immortal spirit, that sung its song unceasingly, and without heeding the vicissitudes around it… There was one shrub in particular… that boar a profusion of purple blossoms, each of which had the luster and richness of a gem; and the whole together made a show so resplendent that it seemed enough to illuminate the garden, even had there been no sunshine.”
In this example, the narrator is describing the sights and sounds of Rappaccini’s lush garden. Not only is it a pleasant image, but the words used to describe it have strong positive associations: sunbeams, cheerfully, young, spirit, resplendent, sunshine…etc.
You might have noticed the abundance of “s” and “p” sounds in these two passages, and there’s a reason. “S” and “p” (along with “l” and “o”) sounds are considered gentle, soft, and pleasant to hear, so they often appear in euphonic language. Compare them to the hard sounds of “k” and “t,” or the guttural sound of “g.”