Elements of the Universe: Aer

The ancients believed that the universe, or the kosmos/cosmos, was composed of five basic elements: earth, air, fire, water, and sky. (When advances in technology revealed more elements that were much smaller, these classical five were reclassified as states of matter--solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.) The ancient words for these elements show up in our language today, through Greek and Latin roots for earth (terra, geo), water (hydor, aqua), fire (ignis, pyr), and words from the sky including air (aer, ventus, aither), star (astron), and sun (sol).

Find words from cosmos here, then check out lists from other Greek and Latin word-forming elements: cosmos, terra, geo, hydor, aqua, ignis, pyr, aer, ventus, aither, astron, sol

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. aerate
    expose to fresh air
    Worms aerate and enrich the soil by burrowing into the sublayers.Seattle Times (Nov 25, 2014)
    aer (air) + ate (suffix forming verbs)
    In addition to creating tunnels for air and water to travel through, worms mix up the elements in the soil, by moving, eating, and excreting. This produces natural fertilizers that help plants grow.
  2. aerial
    existing, living, growing, or operating in the air
    Unmanned aerial vehicles are useful tools for wildlife researchers because they can easily visit remote locations and observe animals from a distance.BBC (Aug 17, 2015)
    aer (air) + al (suffix forming adjectives)
    An unmanned aerial vehicle is also known as a drone. But unlike the three-word phrase, "drone" has a negative tone, which might have originated as an onomatopoeic description for the sound of a male honeybee. Since male honeybees don't actually make honey, "drone" became synonymous with a useless, lazy worker.
  3. aerialist
    an acrobat who performs above the ground, as on a trapeze
    It is known for its cutting-edge shows that feature aerialists, acrobats and contortionists.Washington Times (Jun 30, 2015)
    aer (air) + al (suffix forming adjectives) + ist (suffix forming nouns)
    The prefix "acro" means "highest, topmost, at the point end" and the Greek verb "bainein" means "to walk." Thus, an acrobat used to be someone who walks on tiptoe or on a high tightrope. Now, an acrobat can be any gymnastic performer, while an aerialist is an acrobat who performs high in the air.
  4. aerobic
    enhancing respiratory and circulatory efficiency
    Spontaneous physical games such as hide and seek, tag and kickball can be great sources of aerobic exercise.US News (Aug 10, 2015)
    aer (air) + bios (life) + ic (suffix forming adjectives)
    As the example sentence suggests, spontaneous aerobic exercise is not the same as aerobics. While both can help the circulation of air and blood through the body, aerobics refers to specific routines, often set to music, that aim to improve overall fitness (this includes flexibility and muscle strength).
  5. anaerobic
    living or active in the absence of free oxygen
    The great majority of the microbes live in the gut, particularly the large intestine, which serves as an anaerobic digestion chamber.Scientific American (Feb 25, 2015)
    an (prefix meaning "without") + aer (air) + bios (life) + ic (suffix forming adjectives)
    The prefix "micro" means "small" and "microbe" now means "a small life form." But in Greek, the word would have translated as "short-lived." However, because some anaerobic microbes can grow without oxygen, yet also use it if it's available, they can thrive in a variety of environments, or go into dormant states and perhaps be revived millions of years later.
  6. aerobe
    an organism that requires air or free oxygen for life
    The primary waste products of aerobes are water and carbon dioxide gas—inoffensive substances.Solomon, Steve
    aer (air) + bios (life)
    According to the roots and definition, humans can be considered aerobes. But the word mainly refers to microorganisms. Obligate aerobes will use as much oxygen as they can get, while microaerophiles need a certain level of oxygen to grow, but high concentrations of it will poison them.
  7. aerosol
    a cloud of solid or liquid particles in a gas
    Soot is one type of aerosol produced by human activities, but there are also natural aerosols—sea spray, sulfate, or ammonium salts—in the atmosphere.Science Magazine (Jul 17, 2015)
    aer (air) + solvere (to loosen, dissolve, scatter)
    As the roots, definition, and example sentence show, an aerosol does not just come in a can. In addition to being sprays of artificial chemicals (such as paint or pesticides) or natural elements (such as the sea), an aerosol can be created by human breath, which can contain harmless or disease-causing particles.
  8. aerodynamic
    designed or arranged to offer the least resistant to fluid flow
    Aerodynamically the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumblebee doesn’t know that so it goes on flying anyway.”Time (Aug 3, 2015)
    aer (air) + dynamis (power) + ic (suffix forming adjectives)
    The example sentence was said by the founder of a cosmetics firm, who succeeded despite facing many obstacles. Bumblebees are fat and furry, so they look like they can't fly. But a bumblebee beats its wings about 200 times a second; with each beat, a dynamic stall is created that separates the flow of air and produces a vortex above the wings to lift it up.
  9. aeronautics
    the theory and practice of navigation through air or space
    The public is invited to see the planes, watch aeronautics demonstrations and learn about civil aviation.Washington Times (Jun 6, 2015)
    aer (air) + nautes (sailor) + ics (suffix forming names of sciences or disciplines)
    In the example sentence, "aeronautics" and "aviation" are synonyms that refer to the same event. But as the roots and definitions suggest, "aeronautics" is a more scientific term, while "aviation" is "the art of operating aircraft" (the Latin "avis" means "bird").
  10. aerospace
    the atmosphere and outer space considered as a whole
    Florida, with its mix of airports and military installations, is a leading state in the nation when it comes to the aerospace industry.Washington Times (Jun 12, 2015)
    aer (air) + spatium (room, area, distance, stretch of time)
    In addition to Cape Canaveral, where astronauts launch into aerospace, Florida hosts the National Naval Aviation Museum. Spreading over 350,000 square feet and 37 acres, the museum is the largest of its kind in the world. Visitors can try out flight simulators, examine uniforms and historic documents, or wander among 150 restored aircraft that had served in the Navy, Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard.
  11. aerodrome
    an airfield equipped with control tower and hangars as well as accommodations for passengers and cargo
    Eight aerodromes have been shortlisted as a potential base for the UK's first spaceplane flights, which ministers want to establish by 2018.BBC (Jul 15, 2014)
    aer (air) + dromos (course)
    The word was modeled after "hippodrome" (the Greek "hippos" means "horse"), where chariots raced around a course. It took on a negative tone when it was used to refer to a fixed race or to a place for circus performances. Despite this, the British still prefer "aerodrome" while Americans line up at airports.
  12. aerophagia
    swallowing air
    Less commonly, intestinal gas can result from aerophagia, or swallowing air.US News (Jun 3, 2014)
    aer (air) + phagein (to eat) + ia (suffix forming names of countries, flowers, diseases)
    Aerophagia can be caused by chewing gum, smoking, drinking soda, eating too fast, being too anxious, or undergoing surgery that requires anesthesia. On the mild side, aerophagia can lead to belching and flatulence. But it can also lead to severe abdominal bloating, intestinal pains, or a rupture of the esophagus.

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