Elements of the Universe: Aither

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. ether
    element once believed to consitute all heavenly bodies
    Some prayers will be answered; others will drift into the ether.New York Times (Jun 3, 2015)
    aither (sky)
    Nowadays, something that is quintessential is "the perfect example of a class or quality." The adjective comes from the noun "quintessence" which, when broken down into its roots, means "fifth element." While discovered last by the ancients, aither was considered a purer and higher form of fire or air, and it was the most sacred of all the elements.
  2. etherize
    anesthetize with ether
    Under ordinary conditions he would have been etherized in an adjoining chamber and brought into the operating-room entirely unconscious.Bleyer, Willard Grosvenor
    aither (sky) + ize (suffix forming verbs)
    The example sentence's reference to ether is as a highly inflammable liquid that could be turned into a gas for patients to breathe in. Initially used to treat scurvy, ether was developed at the same time as chloroform, and both eased the pain of soldiers wounded during the Civil War. But now that safer anesthetics are available, they are no longer a part of surgical procedures.
  3. ethereal
    characterized by unusual lightness and delicacy
    Clay is not a medium known for its ethereal qualities.Architectural Digest (May 6, 2015)
    aither (sky) + al (suffix forming adjectives)
    As suggested by the example sentence, "earthy" is the opposite of "ethereal." The article also lists the following adjectives as antonyms: stolid ("having or revealing little emotion or sensibility"), leaden ("lacking lightness or liveliness"), and thick ("having a short and solid form or stature"). Yet, a gifted sculptor can shape an earthy medium into ethereal images.
  4. etherealize
    make ethereal
    The intensely rarefied and etherealized atmospheres surrounding that planet would not maintain animal life such as yours.Helleberg, C. G. (Carl Gustaf)
    aither (sky) + al (suffix forming adjectives) + ize (suffix forming verbs)
    "Rarefied" can mean "of high moral or intellectual value" but that is not the definition intended by the example sentence. Rather, it is closer to its Latin root of "rarus" which means "thin." Both "rarefied" and "etherealized" can describe a heavenly place, but they are used here to describe the atmospheres of a planet that would not support life.
  5. ethernet
    a type of network technology for local area networks
    To get the most accurate measure of your connection speed, however, plug your computer directly to your router with an Ethernet cable, if you can.New York Times (Jul 11, 2014)
    aither (sky) + nodus (knot)
    The "net" in "ethernet" is a shortening of "internet" which is a shortening of "internetwork" which initially referred only to the linked computers of the U.S. Defense Department. Before the ethernet linked computers, "ether" referred to radio communication.
  6. ethyl
    the univalent hydrocarbon radical C2H5 derived from ethane by the removal of one hydrogen atom
    Ethyl Alcohol, which is that which we have described as obtained from fermentation of fruits and grains, is the ordinary alcohol of commerce.Steele, Joel Dorman
    aither (sky) + yl (suffix forming names of chemicals)
    More simply put, ethyl alcohol is the ingredient found in beer and wine. But it is also found in gasoline, and it can be used to clean and paint.
  7. ethane
    a colorless odorless alkane gas used as fuel
    The seas are filled not with water, but with hydrocarbons like methane and ethane.BBC (Mar 18, 2015)
    aither (sky) + ane (suffix forming names of chemicals)
    The example sentence describes the seas of a moon around Saturn. Humans who come into contact with liquid ethane would get frostbite. But used as a refrigerant, ethane could cryogenically preserve life indefinitely.
  8. ethanol
    the intoxicating agent in fermented and distilled liquors
    The Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, has required corn-based ethanol to be blended into almost every gallon of gasoline sold in the U.S.Washington Times (Aug 13, 2015)
    aither (sky) + ane (suffix forming names of chemicals) + ol (suffix meaning "alcohol, oil")
    "Ethanol" is the same thing as "ethyl alcohol." But the example sentence is describing a mixture called "gasohol" which is "90% gasoline and 10% grain alcohol from corn."
  9. urethane
    an ester of carbamic acid
    Some of their designs are multilayer balls with urethane covers, typically the highest-priced golf ball construction on the market.Golf Digest (Oct 16, 2013)
    ouron (urine) + aither (sky) + ane (suffix forming names of chemicals)
    Urethanes were once used in medicines, until they were found to be toxic and ineffective. Urethanes can also dangerously accumulate in the body from excessive intake of foods and beverages that are fermented (such as alcohol, orange juice, soy sauce, kimchi, bread). Fermentation increases the urea (waste products) from yeast and other organisms.
  10. polyurethane
    any of various polymers containing the urethane radical
    Replacement by polyurethane piping, which can withstand earthquake shaking, could overcome this problem.BBC (Dec 10, 2013)
    poly (prefix meaning "many") + meros (part) + ouron (urine) + aither (sky) + ane (suffix forming names of chemicals)
    As seen in the previous example sentence, a polyurethane is often simply referred to as a urethane. Although there are similar concerns about toxicity, the urethane in golf ball covers and the polyurethane in pipes are not the same as the urethanes in foods and beverages (which are also called ethyl carbamates).
  11. ester
    formed by reaction between an acid and an alcohol with elimination of water
    Certain volatile esters — the naturally occurring chemical compounds that create smell — can actually make food taste sweeter, saltier and more bitter.Los Angeles Times (Jun 19, 2015)
    aither (sky)
    "Ester" could be a contraction of "essigather" which is a combination of the German words for vinegar (which is acidic) and ether (which can be alcoholic). If the esters mentioned in the example sentence could be added to more foods, then eating could be healthy (because there won't be a need for more salts or sugars) and enjoyable (because we would still smell and taste the flavors).
  12. polyester
    a complex ester used for making fibers or resins or plastics or as a plasticizer
    These fabrics are usually wool, silk or synthetic materials made of polyester and nylon.Washington Times (Jan 2, 2015)
    poly (prefix meaning "many") + meros (part) + aither (sky)
    Fabrics made entirely of polyester are not as comfortable as those made from natural fibers such as cotton or silk. But polyester resists wrinkles and stains, retains color, and lasts longer. This is why polyester is often blended with natural fibers to create synthetic fabrics with the advantages of both.

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