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.

What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?

iStock
iStock

For carbohydrate lovers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal quite like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say stuffing, though. They say dressing. In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. Dressing seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while stuffing is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it filling, which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If stuffing stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to HuffPost, it may have been because Southerners considered the word stuffing impolite, and therefore never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

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What’s the Difference Between Forests, Woods, and Jungles?

Jui-Chi Chan/iStock via Getty Images
Jui-Chi Chan/iStock via Getty Images

If you're an English speaker, there’s a good chance you often use the words woods, forest, and jungle correctly without even thinking about it. Even if a patch of trees takes up a significant portion of your backyard, you probably wouldn’t consider it a forest; and you wouldn’t talk about the beautiful fall foliage in New England’s jungles. Based on those examples, it seems like woods are smaller than forests, and jungles aren’t found in colder climates. This isn’t wrong—but there's more to it than that.

According to Merriam-Webster, a forest is “a dense growth of trees and underbrush covering a large tract,” while woods are “a dense growth of trees usually greater in extent than a grove and smaller than a forest.” The reason we consider forests to be larger than woods dates back to the Norman rule of Great Britain in 1066, when a forest was a plot of land owned by the Crown that was large enough to accommodate game for royal hunting parties. Whether that land contained trees or not was essentially irrelevant.

These days, scientists and land managers definitely consider the presence of trees necessary for land to be classified as a forest. To set it apart from woods, or woodland, it usually has to meet certain density qualifications, which are different depending on whom you ask.

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), a forest must cover about 1.24 acres of land, and its canopy cover—the amount of land covered by the treetops—must exceed 10 percent of the acreage [PDF]. “Other wooded land” must also span about 1.24 acres, but its canopy cover is between 5 and 10 percent. In a nutshell, the FAO thinks forests and woods are the same size, but forests are more dense than woods. Australia, on the other hand, employs plant ecologist Raymond Specht’s classification system for its vegetation, in which any tree-populated land with less than 30 percent canopy cover is a woodland, and anything more dense than that is a forest.

Unlike forests, jungles don’t have specific scientific classifications, because the word jungle isn’t really used by scientists. According to Sciencing, it’s a colloquial term that usually denotes what scientists refer to as tropical forests.

Tropical forests are located around the Equator and have the highest species diversity per area in the world. Since they’re so densely populated with flora and fauna, it makes sense that both Merriam-Webster and the Encyclopedia Britannica describe jungles as “tangled” and “impenetrable.” They’re bursting with millions of plants and animals that are different from what we see in temperate and boreal forests to the north.

Because most of us aren’t in the habit of clarifying which type of forest we’re talking about in casual conversation, it’s no surprise that we often refer to the temperate forests we see in our own climate simply as forests, which we differentiate from those rich, overgrown tropical territories to the south by calling them jungles.

To summarize, forests are historically and colloquially considered to be larger than woods, and scientifically considered to be more dense. Jungles are technically forests, too, since jungle is a casual word for what scientists call a tropical forest.

And, all differences aside, it’s relaxing to spend time in any of them—here are 11 scientific reasons why that’s true.

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