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.

Recommended for you: « »



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

  • D.A.W.

    I know that you made a personal list of 12, but when you wrote “evocative”, I instantly thought that you meant the following words, because of their sound of “air”:
    {aerodynamic, aerodynamics, aeronaut, aeronautical, aeronautics, aerobatics, aerobic, aerobics, aerofoil (spelled “airfoil” in the Americas), aerogram, aeromobile, aeroplane (as obsolete in the Americas as is “aerodrome”), aerostatic, aerovane (obsolete), and aerologist (obsolete) }.
    In American English, we also have “airmobile”, an adjective.
    This was seen in the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile) of the U.S. Army.

  • D.A.W.

    Aether: This is a [bloody British] variant of ether, except for the case of “aether” as the hypothetical substance that permeated** all of space and all of matter.
    “The aether” was supposedly necessary for the propagation of electromagnetic waves, during the time of about 1870-1910. Then during 1890-1910, great scientists like FitzGerald (Irish), Lorentz (Dutch), Albert Michaelson (American), and Albert Einstein showed that there was no necessity for any “aether”, and no evidence of its existence. (In fact, the existence of “aether” would contradict the Laws of Thermodynamics. We know that a vacuum does not conduct heat in the ordinary way, but “aether” would be an excellent conductor of heat.)
    Albert Einstein was noted for being German/Italian/Swiss/American, and indeed an international man.
    **subjunctive mood.

  • D.A.W.

    A “phaeton” is also the name for an antiquated form of an automobile. It is difficult to buy a phaeton anymore. Among other problems with phaetons, it is impossible to build them with the varieties of passenger safety that we need nowadays in most countries. It is easy to “lose one’s head” in a phaeton.
    “Phaeton” was also the brand name of some kinds of automobiles. Possibilities: Ford Phaeton, Plymouth Phaeton, Fiat Phaeton.
    Spelling difficulties: phaesant or pheasant? phaentasm? phaentasmagorical? Note than in English, we have “fantasy”, but in German, it is Phantasie. This kind of difference does not have any pattern, because photograph and Fotograph mean the same thing, as do photography and Fotographie.
    More difficulties: pigeon or pidgeon. Check with family of the great Canadian actor Walter Pidgeon (who became an American and lived in Los Angeles County for a long time).

  • D.A.W.

    Note that in electrical engineering, physics, and their applications, the plural of “antenna” is “antennas”. For a bit of explanation, see the first page of the textbook ANTENNAS, which was published in 1950 by John D. Kraus of the Ohio State University. The book ANTENNAS was in print and on sale for several decades after 1950.
    As Dr. Kraus noted, insects, crustaceans, and beings from science fiction have “antennae”, but not radio antennas, radar antennas, radio astronomy antennas, and the like.

  • 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?

  • 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’.

  • 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.’

  • 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!

Leave a comment: