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.

The One Letter in the Alphabet That Can't Be Silent

Hafiez Razali, iStock via Getty Images
Hafiez Razali, iStock via Getty Images

The English language can be baffling at times—just look to words like phlegm, receipt, and chthonic for proof. Silent letters are unavoidable. Almost every word in the alphabet is occasionally guilty of taking up space without contributing anything, but there is one exception. According to Merriam-Webster, V is the only letter in English that consistently makes itself heard.

No matter where it appears, whether it's in love, voice, or divisive, V plays a vital role. Most letters are phonetic chameleons: That's why the C sounds different in cat and city, and why the g sounds like nothing at all in gnash. V is unique in that it never goes through an identity crisis.

There are a few letters that rival V's special status. Z is only silent in words we borrowed from the French, like chez, laissez-faire, and rendezvous. The one silent J in the entire English language appears in marijuana, a term of Spanish origin. But even accounting for words we've adopted from other tongues, there's not one example of a silent V in the English dictionary.

The prevalence of silent letters is just one frustrating aspect of our language. Here are a few more obstacles foreign speakers must encounter when learning English.

Presidents Day vs. President's Day vs. Presidents' Day: Which One Is It?

welcomia/iStock via Getty Images
welcomia/iStock via Getty Images

Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" implies that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the more than 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

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