The Most Beautiful Word in the English Language Is Benign

Erma Bombeck? Woody Allen? L. M. Boyd? Mark Hatfield? David B. Whitlock? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: If you or a loved one has faced cancer then the following assertion would be understandable:

The most beautiful word in the English language is ‘benign’.

This notion has been attributed to two well-known humorists Erma Bombeck and Woody Allen. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: Erma Bombeck included this remark in a newspaper column she wrote in 1991. Woody Allen used this idea in a movie he wrote and directed in 1997. Details are presented further below.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the widely-syndicated column of L. M. Boyd in 1968, but he credited a correspondent named Erna. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“I have always maintained (and always will) that the most beautiful word in English is ‘benign’ and the ugliest word is ‘malignant,'” writes a San Francisco girl named Erna.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading The Most Beautiful Word in the English Language Is Benign


  1. 1968 November 12, The Robesonian, Checking Up by L. M. Boyd, Quote Page 6, Column 6, Lumberton, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)