Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Let's Call the Whole Thing Off

You say “AY-ther” with a Long-A, I say EE-ther with a Long-E. This is the tempest in a teapot surrounding the awesome long-awaited and newly released Aether Collaboration Mod developed by Kingbdogz, Kodaichi, Shockah, Flan and 303 for the popular indie game Minecraft. After watching YouTube LPers and their audiences alike struggle with, and forum-fight about, the pronunciation of the word “Aether”, I decided to take a look. Before we degenerate into Dan Quayle-ism, lets see what we can actually find out about the word.

So, checking the mighty Merriam-Webster online for the pronunciation key, I find the definition of aether listed as: “A variation of ETHER.” Hmm. I then check what I'm here for, the pronunciation key. No pronunciation listed on this word. Neither is the audio playback of “aether” offered. Hmm. Checking “ether” as advised shows it to be pronounced, predictably, EE-ther with the long E, \ˈē-thər\. And the audio playback option confirms “EE-ther” as the pronunciation. Time for a new source, hopefully one with information linked to “aether”. Goodbye, Merriam-Webster. Dictionary fail.

Maybe we can learn more from the etymology of the word than the piddly bits in the dictionary. Let's take a look at some classical literature. Greek gives us Aither, one of three gods of the heavens, as well as the rarefied air those gods breathed. There, it is pronounced Long-A “AY-ther”. Aristotle gives us “æther”, referred to as the fifth element of essence or spirit, as well as the force or material that gave celestial bodies their circular orbits. Here we are given an entirely different pronunciation: aith-EE-r with the long E moved to the second position. I get this-it is where “ethereal” or “aethereal” (ih-theer-ee-uhl) comes from. But still, no joy here, just another variant added to the mix.

OK, Google, time for you to do your stuff. Finally, a definition of aether that includes an audio playback and a pronunciation, (thr) . This one is another long-E aether, and lists Aristotle's aith-EE-r as well as the Latin, in which the pronunciation looks like EE-th-EE-r, with two long E's. Hmm. I also see a variant based in Greek that includes the Greek pronunciation chart: (ˈiːθə). This seems to be pronounced with the “ae” sound as a long E yet again.

Now, let's take a look at the mod itself and some of the “ae” words used within, specifically focusing on the “Aer-” prefix. How is this pronounced? Most people would pronounce it with a long-A, as in “aerosol”, but given what we've seen with this troublesome “ae” combination, lets sound out some words.

Aerwhales: Clearly Long-A usage. Can't see calling them EARwhales.
Aerclouds: See above. EARclouds? Naw.
Aechor Petals: Could go either way. Long-A-chor or Long-E-chor.
Aechor Plants: See above. Either/or.
Aerclouds: Long-A for sure, since EARclouds just sounds silly.

Primarily long-E from reference sources, but the long-A is well represented, too. Our named items from the mod itself seem to be primarily long-A, but some could possibly be long-E. Hmm.

Still as clear as mud.

From what I remember of long-ago school, I SEEM to remember that either variant, be it long-E or long-A, was correct. Then I remember-I have the definitive source. My mother. She's a retired ENGLISH TEACHER. So I call.

“Mom? I have a quick question.”
“OK?” (with trepidation, Mom knows me well)
“How do you properly pronounce aether? Is it AY-ther or EE-ther?”
“Either way is proper usage, dear. Why do you ask?”
“Mom, it would take way too long to explain. Love you, bye.”

There it is-Mom is always right.


You may now feel free to pronounce “Aether” any way you wish, and so may everyone else. Stop being the pronunciation police, and go out, play in the Aether and have a good time.

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