40 Amazing Words That Begin With 'A'

iStock/JLGutierrez
iStock/JLGutierrez

Turn an uppercase A on its side so that its closed top is pointing to the left, and you might be able to see where the letter itself originated. Its earliest ancestor was probably an Egyptian hieroglyph representing an ox’s head, and the ox’s two horns are what gave our letter A what are now its two pointed legs. The Phoenicians then took on this Egyptian ox symbol and simplified it enormously (into their vaguely triangular letter aleph, which resembled a modern letter A that had fallen on its side) before the Greeks got hold of that and turned it into their initial letter, alpha. And it’s from there, via Latin, that A ended up in English.

Today, A is usually said to be the third-most frequently used letter in the English alphabet (behind E and either T or S, depending on which sample you use). You can expect it to account for roughly eight percent of all the language on a typical page of English text, as well as almost the same amount of words in a standard dictionary—including the 40 amazing A words amassed here.

1. ABARCY

Derived from a Greek word meaning “bread,” abarcy is insatiableness. And if you’re abarstic, then you have an insatiable appetite.

2. ABECEDARIAN

Anyone who learns or teaches the alphabet is an abecedarian, a word appropriately derived from the first three letters of the alphabet. In fact, abecedarian was spelled “ABCdarian” in 17th century English. And similarly…

3. ABECEDARY

... an abecedary is a special type of acrostic poem, in which each line begins with a different letter of the alphabet from A through Z.

4. ABEQUITATE

To ride away on a horse is to abequitate, whereas to adequitate is to ride a horse alongside someone else.

5. ABRAHAM

No one is entirely sure why, but the name Abraham came to have all kinds of negative connotations in English slang, beginning during the Tudor period and lasting right through to the Victorian era. So Abraham suit was another word for what we would call false pretenses, an Abraham-man or Abraham-cove was someone who feigned illness or insanity to illicit sympathy—and doing precisely that was to sham Abraham.

6. ABRIDGMENTS

Victorian slang for knee-length trousers.

7. ABRODIETICAL

If you’re abrodietical then you’re extremely dainty, picky, or delicate.

8. ACCISMUS

Refusing (or pretending to refuse) something that you actually really want is called accismus. It derives from a Greek word meaning “coyness” or “feigned indifference.”

9. ACERSECOMIC

An acersecomic person is someone who has never cut their hair.

10. ACKWARDS

An old English dialect word describing a creature that’s lying on its back and can’t get up.

11. ACNESTIS

The acnestis is the part of your back between the shoulder blades, which you can’t quite reach to scratch. It derives from the Ancient Greek word for “spine”—which was also the Greek word for a cheese grater.

12. ADVESPERATE

When the day advesperates, it approaches the evening.

13. AGELAST

An agelast (pronounced “adge-el-ast,” so the first syllable rhymes with badge) is someone who never laughs. And if you’re agelastic, then you’re miserable or morose.

14. AGERASIA

The quality of not appearing to grow old is called agerasia, derived from a Greek word for “eternal youth.”

15. AGGLE

An old northern English dialect word meaning “to cut unevenly.”

16. ALONG-STRAIGHT

If you’re along-straight, then you’re lying at your full length.

17. ALTILOQUIOUS

If you’re altiloquious or altiloquent, then you’re talking loudly or, more figuratively, talking about lofty, important subjects.

18. ALYSM

The boredom and restlessness that comes from being unwell or from being confined to bed through illness or while recovering from an injury is called alysm.

19. AMAXOPHOBIA

Also called ochophobia, if you have amaxophobia then you’re terrified of driving or being driven in motor vehicles. Other little-known A phobias include apiphobia (fear of bees), acrophobia (sharpness or sharp objects), algophobia (pain), acarophobia (mites), astraphobia (lightning) and …

20. ANGINOPHOBIA

… which is a specific form of claustrophobia involving narrow places.

21. ANANYM

Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo corporation, the mho, daraf and yrneh units, and the Canadian town of Adanac are all examples of ananyms—words and names created by reversing the letters of an existing word. The word yob, meaning a hooligan or lout, is also supposed to be an ananym coined in the 19th century when “backslang” (i.e. reversing words to form new ones) was a popular linguistic trend.

22. ANDOO

An old word from the far north of Scotland meaning “to row a boat slowly,” followed by …

23. ANGALUCK

… another old Scots word for an accident for misfortune.

24. ANONYMUNCLE

The Latin diminutive-forming suffix -unculus (as in homunculus) is the root of a number of English words referring to small size or puniness, including carbuncle, which literally means “a little piece of coal,” and portiuncle, an old Tudor period word for a small stretch or portion of land. Likewise an anonymuncle, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a petty anonymous writer.”

25. ANTIMETABOLE

When you repeat a clause or phrase but reverse the order of some of its words—like “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”—then that’s antimetabole. As a figure of speech, it’s an example of a specific type of rhetorical device known as a chiasmus, in which certain elements of a sentence are reversed and repeated to given a rhythmically effective criss-crossed pattern; for that reason, chiasmus derives from the X-shaped letter of the Greek alphabet, chi.

26. ANTIPELARGY

Antipelargy is a 17th century word for the reciprocal love felt between children and their parents. It derives from the Greek word for the stork, pelargos, which is traditionally said to be a very affectionate bird.

27. APHERCOTROPISM

When a plant or tree encounters an obstacle as it grows and has to work its way around it, that’s aphercotropism. It’s the same phenomenon that accounts for potato shoots being able to work their way around obstacle courses in search of light, and for tree roots and trunks growing into often quite astounding shapes.

28. APOPLANESIS

A good word for the political season: When a speaker promises to address a point, but then goes off on some long digression and never actually addresses it, that’s called apoplanesis. It literally means “leading astray.”

29. APRICATE

To apricate is to bask in the sun, while apricity is the warmth of the sun, in particular in the otherwise cold winter months.

30. AQUABIB

Someone who likes to drink water rather than alcohol is an aquabib, while …

31. AQUABOB

… is an old English dialect word for an icicle.

32. ARGLEBARGLER

To argle-bargle is to quarrel or dispute—and an arglebargler is someone who does just that.

33. ARMOGAN

An old naval slang word for the perfect weather conditions for beginning a journey.

34. ARSE-COCKLE

A fairly uncomplimentary Scots dialect word for a zit—or a “hot pimple,” as the Scottish National Dictionary puts it.

35. ARSY-VARSY

Another way of saying “head over heels.”

36. ASHCAT

An old English dialect word for a lazy person who does nothing but lounge in front of the fire.

37. ASPECTABUND

If you’re aspectabund then you have an extremely expressive face.

38. ASSYPOD

Literally meaning “little ash-covered person,” an assypod is an untidy woman.

39. AUTOGOLPE

An autogolpe (pronounced “gol-pay”) or autocoup is a coup instigated by an elected leader, to ensure absolute contract of a region or country.

40. AUTOHAGIOGRAPHY

A hagiography is a description or account of the life of a saint, which makes an autohagiography an autobiography that flatters its subject, or makes them out to be a better person than they really are.

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The Racist Origins of 7 Common Phrases

Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup, Unsplash
Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup, Unsplash

Even the most nonsensical idioms in the English language originated somewhere. Some terms, like silver lining and tomfoolery, have innocuous roots, while other sayings date back to the darkest chapters in U.S. history. While these common phrases are rarely used in their original contexts today, knowing their racist origins casts them in a different light.

1. Tipping Point

This common phrase describes the critical point when a change that had been a possibility becomes inevitable. When it was popularized, according to Merriam-Webster, it was applied to one phenomenon in particular: white flight. In the 1950s, as white people abandoned urban areas for the suburbs in huge numbers, journalists began using the phrase tipping point in relation to the percentage of minority neighbors it took to trigger this reaction in white city residents. Tipping point wasn’t coined in the 1950s (it first appeared in print in the 19th century), but it did enter everyday speech during the decade thanks to this topic.

2. Long Time, No See

The saying long time, no see can be traced back to the 19th century. In a Boston Sunday Globe article from 1894, the words are applied to a Native American speaker. The broken English phrase was also used to evoke white people's stereotypical ideas of Native American speech in William F. Drannan’s 1899 book Thirty-One Years on the Plains and in the Mountains, Or, the Last Voice from the Plains An Authentic Record of a Life Time of Hunting, Trapping, Scouting and Indian Fighting in the Far West.

It's unlikely actual Native Americans were saying long time, no see during this era. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this type of isolating construction would have been unusual for the indigenous languages of North America. Rather, it originated as a way for white writers to mock Native American speech, and that of non-native English speakers from other places like China. By the 1920s, it had become an ordinary part of the American vernacular.

3. Mumbo Jumbo

Before it was synonymous with jargon or other confusing language, the phrase mumbo jumbo originated with religious ceremonies in West Africa. In the Mandinka language, the word Maamajomboo described a masked dancer who participated in ceremonies. Former Royal African Company clerk Francis Moore transcribed the name as mumbo jumbo in his 1738 book Travels into the Inland Parts of Africa. In the early 1800s, English speakers started to divorce the phrase from its African origins and apply it to anything that confused them.

4. Sold Down the River

Before the phrase sold down the river meant betrayal, it originated as a literal slave-trading practice. Enslaved people from more northerly regions were sold to cotton plantations in the Deep South via the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. For enslaved people, the threat of being “sold down the river” implied separation from family and a life of hard labor. A journal entry from April 1835 mentions a person who, “having been sold to go down the river, attempted first to cut off both of his legs, failing to do that, cut his throat, did not entirely take his life, went a short distance and drowned himself.”

5. No Can Do

Similar to long time, no see, no can do originated as a jab at non-native English speakers. According to the OED, this example was likely directed at Chinese immigrants in the early 20th century. Today, many people who use the phrase as general slang for "I can’t do that" are unaware of its cruel origins.

6. Indian Giver

Merriam-Webster defines an Indian giver as “a person who gives something to another and then takes it back.” One of the first appearances was in Thomas Hutchinson’s History of the Colony of Massachuset’s Bay in the mid 18th century. In a note, it says “An Indian gift is a proverbial expression, signifying a present for which an equivalent return is expected.” In the 19th century, the stereotype was transferred from the gift to the giver, the idea of an “equivalent return” was abandoned, and it became used as an insult. An 1838 N.-Y. Mirror article mentions the “distinct species of crimes and virtues” of schoolchildren, elaborating, "I have seen the finger pointed at the Indian giver. (One who gives a present and demands it back again.)" Even as this stereotype about indigenous people faded, the phrase Indian giver has persisted into the 21st century. The word Indian in Indian giver also denotes something false, as it does in the antiquated phrase Indian summer.

7. Cakewalk

In the antebellum South, some enslaved African Americans spent Sundays dressing up and performing dances in the spirit of mocking the white upper classes. The enslavers didn’t know they were the butt of the joke, and even encouraged these performances and rewarded the best dancers with cake, hence the name. Possibly because this was viewed as a leisurely weekend activity, the phrase cakewalk became associated with easy tasks. Cakewalks didn’t end with slavery: For decades, they remained (with cake prizes) a part of African American life, but at the same time white actors in blackface incorporated the act into minstrel shows, turning what began as a satire of white elites into a racist caricature of Black people.