“Ae” spelling

I was tempted to categorize this as a “Faux NOOB” because the ae combination in such forms as orthopaedics, paediatrics and archaeology derive from ancient Greek and aren’t specifically British. But until a recent pronounced uptick, they have traditionally been found much more commonly in Britain than in the U.S. Thus I feel they represent a proper NOOB.

I do, however, enthusiastically put them in a new category I’ve just created: “Commerce.” That’s because no one (or no American) on his or her own would think to write paediatrician rather than pediatrician. Rather, the ae form in this word and in orthopaedic appears on every billboard and print advertisement I see these days because some ad-person thought they sounded classy, official and vaguely British. (Remind me to retroactively put bespoke and stockist in this category as well.)

A special case is encyclopaedia. According to the OED, that spelling would have become “obsolete” in the late 19th century were it not used by the “Encyclopaedia Britannica” and other reference works. “Britannica,” of course, not only uses the a and e but famously connects them in a fused character called a ligature. Interestingly, while ae is still very much of the operation’s trade name, there appears to be some movement toward losing the a, as in this Google search result:

The only person who pronounces the ae in encyclopaedia is Ted on the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.” He’s routinely ragged for this by his friends, including Robin, who in one “intervention” tells him:

Dear Ted: It’s “encyclopedia,” not “encyclopaedia.” You always pronounce things in the most pretentious way possible, and it makes you sound douchy, and not “douchay.”

29 thoughts on ““Ae” spelling

  1. Aeroplane, anyone? Aeronautics? Aerobics?
    Aero chocolate, with air bubbles.
    None of that has anything to do with ‘heir’ or ‘heirloom’.
    Fascinating language isn’t it?

  2. Since I’ve known æ as a diphthong since I took Latin in high school, before I started this reply, I typed “ligature vs. diphthong” into Google Search. At the top of the results was http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Æ.

    I think æ might get more use if there were a key for it, or an easy way to type it, on modern keyboards. On some typing machines which preceded the PC with its code pages for all sorts of alphabets, there was a sort of a pause or hold key which allowed one to type non-standard characters like ligatures and accented characters such as French vowels, for example.

    1. Ah, the paragraph of that article headed “English” answers my question below. Thanks for that. It does look pretty.

  3. Didn’t “medieval” used to be spelled with an “ae” in there somewhere, or was that made up in an attempt to look olde worlde?

  4. I had a customer who would constantly call to report that the “cashay” (cache) server was not functioning. I was tempted to tell him that it was because he is a doushaybag, but I wanted to keep my job.

      1. I do, of course. But the word, as used in the computer business, means “cover” and is spelt “cache”, no acute accent on the e, pronounced “cash”. There are many places in Canada with “cache” in their names. They were named by French-Canadian traders. See “Tête Jaune Cache, British Columbia”, named after a blond trader.
        A “cache-sexe” is a loincloth, posing pouch or bikini bottom because it “covers the sex”.

  5. Well, I spell “mediaeval” like that most of the time (although because my spellchecker doesn’t like it I’m starting to take the easy way out) and that’s not an attempt to look olde worlde, because I look olde worlde anyway. My impression is that the “ae” spellings are slowly falling away over here in BrItish English. It would be charming if they survived only in American advertisements.

    1. Aether and ether are two different things though, at least to Brits – the first means atmosphere or air, the second is a type of anaesthetic (another ae word!)

  6. Wasn’t the dropping of the “a” or “o” in these words part of Webster’s American spelling reforms, along with regularizing “-re” endings to “-er” and “-our” to “-or”? Hence the American “maneuver” instead of our classier (because it looks more French) “manoeuvre” (and I would do the ligature if I knew how).

    1. Æ or æ:
      Alt+146 or Alt +145

      Not enoeurgh words to warrant a similar dipthong, but my extended character set guide suggest Windows + 156 but I’ve idea how to achieve it!

      Shame (not!)

      Do Americans use the sentence ending “not” construction?

      1. Know eye dear eye’m affray’d!

        I must comment on the word “manoeuvre”. It’s obviously based on French; Google Translate thinks “oeuvre” means “work”. When Americans spell it “maneuver” they completely ruin the history of the word in my opinion.

  7. Alongside the various ae-spellings, there are also various words that are more authentically Latin-looking when spelled with oe. H.P. Lovecraft, the eccentric Anglophile and self-proclaimed 18th century throwback, who sometimes closed his letters with “God Save The King!”, had a fondness for spelling fetid as foetid. He also dipped right back into Latin and adopted the word foetor, which I suspect very few 20th century writers other than he and his imitators ever used.

    Then of course there’s foetus, and of course the band Foetus (formerly Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel) . . .

  8. The word “aesthetic” does have an a-less alternative spelling, but in this case it’s rarely used in my experience. All over the Interwebz you’ll see people talking about things being “aesthetically pleasing” or the aesthetics of something, but not the esthetics. Maybe the ae form is more aesthetically pleasing? Hehe…

  9. That “ae” provides a useful distinction, in the UK, between paedophile (distasteful to illegal, depending on degree) and pedophile (amusing and not illegal).

    1. As far as I’m aware, it’s spelt with an “ae” in British english. Pedophile is an American spelling. Maybe you’d care to explain the instances where “pedophilia” is found to be amusing? :/

    2. The real problem, confusion, arises with pronunciation. “Paedophile” is pronounced “peed-o-phile” but when it’s spelt “pedophile” people often, at least many who read the news on US tv, pronounce it “pedd-o-phile”. As you say, being attracted to feet is not illegal.
      For some reason, although they do the same surgery on “pediatrician” they don’t seem to pronounce it “pedd-iatrician”.

  10. It’s one of the great things about English that, unlike more phonetic languages such as Spanish, say, words stand out when we’re reading because of our quirky spellings, which often preserve etymology and allow us to differentiate fine shades of meaning.

    I’ve never come across simhedges’ differentiation of spelling above, but consider how we in the UK know automatically that “program” refers to a computer program and not a theatre or TV programme. There are many examples of this: we don’t, for instance, have to think twice when we see the word “tire” to know that it does not mean a pneumatic tyre (so spelt) but rather something to do with fatigue; similarly, we know “savory” is the name of a herb and not to do with how something tastes, which would be “savoury”. Canadians, I believe, do something similar: a spelling differentiation which would be handy to adopt is their use of “center” for the geometrical term and “centre” for an important place or building.

    The USA, with its apparent lust for simplification, has worked against these fine shadings, which are the mark of a precise and developed language. This extends to lexis as well as orthography. In Britain and the Commonwealth we used to bring up children, rear animals and grow crops, and when we employed the respective terms we knew what we were talking about; now, alas, the American habit of applying “raise” to all of these is spreading inexorably.

    Dictionaries don’t help, and there has been considerable mischief-making on their part to ghettoize dialects, to make cross-fertilization between varieties of English more difficult. Such-and-such word is an Americanism (because it is used more in America than Britain); this is a Britishism (vice-versa). Take the case of “grey” and “gray” as one example: these were once (in my lifetime) different shades of the same colour – a useful differentiation for tailors and the like – now one has become a “Britishism” and the other an “Americanism”.

    My request here to Ben and all readers of this blog is that we celebrate the richness of our mutual language and sort out what are the best practices to take it forward as a world language.

    1. I can think of another couple of examples where oversimplification has caused more trouble than it’s worth. Take licence / license and practice / practise. The noun is -ce, the verb is -se. However, in American English, it’s always license and practice. Seeing this online causes English students to use the wrong form of the word in their school work, and they lose marks for it. And the Americans have lost the spelt distinction between the noun and verb forms. The only -ce/-se pair that has survived intact (that I can think of at the moment, anyway) is advice / advise, and that’s only because they’re pronounced differently.

    1. Unless, of course, you’re talking about the one who inhabits “Cesar’s Palace” of Santa Barbara, “Cesar’s Palace” of Miami, “Cesar’s Palace” of Orlando…

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