aglet

This is a name for one of those things that need names but don’t have them – except that they do, but the average user is agnostic of them. Our daily life is certainly laced with such things; some people will call them thingies, others will make up cute nonce words (often called sniglets, a term and concept created by Rich Hall of Not Necessarily the News), while agelasts will simply describe them or say “Ag, let it go.” The capper, of course, is when we find out that there was a word for them all along.

I first saw today’s word in The Book of Lists, by Wallechinsky, Wallace, and Wallace, in a list called “16 names of things you never knew had names.” As I look again at the list now, after a couple of decades, I find that I might as well be seeing some of the words for the first time, while others are like old friends now. (I’m also surprised to see that the list does not include philtrum. Now, where did I first see that one?) And the top of the list is, yes, aglet: “The plain or ornamental covering on the end of a shoelace.” (Am I sorry for stringing you on for so long? No.)

It’s a strange little animal, this word, no? It tastes of piglet and eaglet (but not in the way an eaglet would taste a piglet). You know it’s something little thanks to the let ending, but what thing is it a little version of? It is in some ways a stringy word, its brevity nothwithstanding; it has a hint of ligate tied into a knot; the g has a look of a bow, and the l of a straight string. It’s a short word for a typically not-too-long thing, but, then, how long is a piece of string?

As long as it has to be, is the usual answer. And this word, too, has settled to a useful length – well, not quite settled: it’s also spelled aiglet. But it’s had half a millennium of erosion since we stole it into English. It used to be much longer, back when it was a French word, but why leave the speaker tongue-tied? You may find it (and its taste) ugly or elegant, but at least it’s efficient at less than half the original length. OK, I’m not stringing you along, just giving you a little needling – or rather a little needle: this word is knotted up from aiguillette, “little needle”, tracing back to Latin acus “needle” and cognate with acute. As in “That’s acute pair of shoes you have.”

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7 responses to “aglet

  1. I have known this word for good many years now. I was reading a note on Anu Garg, founder of AWAD, yesterday and I read about Philtrum too(Synchronicity!), though chances are that your acquaintance with this word would be older than AWAD.

    Sialoquent and Onomatomania are also words which are always needed but are rarely found. These are some of the Ammon Shea’s favorite words!

  2. Anu Garg coined a word Linguaphile. Now, don’t you think that logophile was pretty much doing the job?

    • “Lover of words” is not exactly synonymous with “lover of language,” though – language has grammar too. (Notwithstanding which Garg focuses entirely on words.)

  3. One of my favorites is “minton,” referring to each of the little pieces of wood separating the glass in a multi-paned window, and that’s not bad.

    • Minton? Is that the American form of what the British call a muntin? Builder’s terms do get considerably mutated by being passed on orally. ‘Muntin’ comes from the French montant, rising, because it refers to a vertical bar.

    • The list I got aglet from doesn’t have minton, but it does have its companion quarrel, which names a small, diamond-shaped piece of glass such as used in a lattice window.

  4. Pingback: philtrum | Sesquiotica

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