12 Evocative Words That Include “Ae”

By Mark Nichol

There’s something about the digraph ae that lends it a dignity and an aura. Perhaps it’s the vowel combination’s ubiquity as a plural marker taken directly from Latin (antennae, nebulae, and so on). Maybe it’s the frequency of its appearance in classical nomenclature (maenad, praetor, and the like). Whatever the reason, words in which ae appears are often vivid in their evocations. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Aegis: Originally the name of a shield associated with Zeus and Athena, the word later came to mean any protective shield or garment signifying that one was under divine protection. The meaning now extends to protection in general, as well as influence, sponsorship, or guidance.

2. Aerie: This word for an eagle’s nest lends itself well to the description or name of a mountain fastness.

3. Aether: This is a variant of ether, which refers to practically to an organic compound but also has figurative and theoretical connotations as well as denoting an element once thought to constitute outer space. In this sense, “the aether” is synonyms with “the heavens.” The adjectival form is aethereal, one of the most elegant words I know.

4. Brae: A Scots term (from a Norse word for “eyelid”) referring to a hillside, especially one overlooking a river. Many words in Scots, such as naething for nothing and waeful for woeful, indicate how their pronunciation of English words diverges.

5. Caesura: A caesura is a break or interruption, especially a rhythmic or rhetorical pause in poetry.

6. Chimaera: Originally the name of a specific mythical creature consisting of anatomical features of various real animals or of similar beings such as centaurs, this word, often in the modern form chimera, is used in science to refer to an organism with genetically distinct cells. It also applies, in architectural, to such decorative yet practical features as rain spouts in the form of gargoyles or other imaginary or actual animals. But perhaps its most interesting usage is to denote an illusion, fantasy, or fancy.

7. Daemon: This archaic spelling of demon invokes its original pre-Christian sense of “soul.” (Philip Pullman used it in his remarkable His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy to refer to human souls manifested as familiar-like animals.)

8. Faerie: This word, often capitalized, refers to the realm of the fairies and/or other supernatural beings, into which unsuspecting and often unfortunate mortals are often lured. The origin of the word is the Latin term fata, referring to the Fates, who in classical mythology determined one’s destiny.

9. Jaeger: This word meaning “hunter,” also sometimes referring to elite soldiers, is spelled jäger in its native German.

10. Lacunae: This is the plural form of lacuna, Latin for “gap” as well as “pit” and pool (ultimately from lacus, “lake,” and the source of the word lagoon). It refers to an omitted segment or a period of silence, as well as a space in or a lack of something. As such, it alludes to the mystery of the missing.

11. Maelstrom: This word for an often permanent whirlpool capable of drowning people and swallowing small watercraft but not larger vessels (literally, “mill stream” — with mill in the sense of grinding) evokes calamity and diabolical forces.

12. Phaeton: The name of the ill-fated son of Helios, the Greek sun god, who burned out when he took his father’s sun-chariot for a joyride, was employed in Victorian times to refer to a type of carriage. The word’s highfalutin airs makes it a suitable ironic appellation for a junky jalopy or a humble farmer’s wagon.

These and other terms that include ae can inspire new nomenclature for fiction writers or provide allusive opportunities.

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4 Responses to “12 Evocative Words That Include “Ae””

  • Elizabeth Stafford

    Yes, they are beautiful. Thank you.

    To help me enjoy the way they feel and the response they garner when they’re spoken… I’d love their pronunciations to be published too!

  • Sally

    Of course, if you’re a British Commonwealth person, you’ll find many more – ‘aesthetic’ (and ‘anaesthetic’), ‘encyclopaedia,’ ‘paediatrician’ (which spelling alerts you to the fact that such a doctor treats children, not feet), ‘paedophile’ etc, etc.

    We also still write ‘foetus’ (‘fetus’ always looks to me like a given name in the rural south of the US) and ‘foetal.’

  • Dr D P Singh

    Yes Sally.
    Surely a ‘paediatrician’ sounds more comforting than the pedestrian sounding ‘pediatrician’. ‘Anaesthesia’ promises a more painless, comfortable and soothing surgical experience rather than the abrupt ‘anesthesia’.

  • thebluebird11

    @Sally: We don’t need to keep the “ae” to know the difference between a pediatrician and a podiatrist…at least, not in the US we don’t. Even in the rural south, where I would doubt that there is anybody named fetus. But y’all feel free to mosey on over ‘cross the pond and have a look-see for yourself, now, y’heah?

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