aesthetic / esthetic

Discussion in 'English Only' started by burrinho, Aug 20, 2009.

  1. burrinho New Member

    argentinian spanish
    I know the word aesthetic(s), and i´ve seen written somewhere the term "esthetic". Can it be used both ways, is there any difference between both or "esthetic" is an incorrect term?
    Thanks in advance!
  2. Ani79 Senior Member

    English - Ireland
    I believe "aesthetic" is the European way of spelling it, and "esthetic" is the American version.
  3. Dlyons

    Dlyons Senior Member

    English - Ireland
    Both are correct and can be used interchangably. "aesthetic" is much more commonly seen though.
  4. burrinho New Member

    argentinian spanish
    Thank you both very much!
  5. Ann O'Rack Senior Member

    UK English
    More commonly seen this side of the Atlantic, certainly, but I believe "esthetic" is the common AmE spelling (see "encyclopedia/encyclopaedia", anaesthetic/anesthetic" etc).

    UK English seems to be losing the diphthongs "oe" and "ae" in a lot of words, so you could probably use the simpler spelling with impunity, in my view.
  6. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    In a BE context I think you should be careful where you use esthetic.
    It would still be considered wrong by many people.

    The British National Corpus has no examples of esthetic.

    The Corpus of Contemporary American English has 415 esthetic, 6,538 aesthetic.

    For the moment, I would stick with aesthetic.
  7. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    In AE, if you wrote "aesthetic" I would assume you were either:

    1. Foreign educated
    2. A pretentious buttock

    It would seem very much like you were "putting on airs".

    (Other American English writers may not agree with this assessment.)
  8. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I was surprised by the COCA counts too :)
    In more detail, 2009 examples are from:
    Harpers Bazaar
    Rolling Stone
    New York Times
    USA Today
    Washington Post
    etc, etc,
    ... and are mostly from academic sources ...
    ... and
    The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery
  9. Ann O'Rack Senior Member

    UK English
    Would I be digressing too much if I mention the rather amusing acronym for the British Association for Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons - BAAPS?

    (Feel free to delete. But it is Friday...)
  10. kitenok Senior Member

    I feel I should insert myself into this conversation as a representative of the 93% of Americans who happily go along their pretentious-buttocky way spelling "aesthetic" with the old "ae" diphthong. I wasn't surprised by the COCA results, nor was I surprised that Merriam-Webster lists "aesthetic" as the primary spelling and "esthetic" as an acceptable variant.
  11. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This septic isle!
    NW Englandish English
    What? ~ just the one, Mr.P?

    I see that the Encyclopaedia Britannica evades the issue by using ... both.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2009
  12. xabiachica Senior Member

    English English!
    but at least they'd be spelling it correctly:D
  13. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    In AE, if you were to write esthetic, I would assume you were either a disciple of Noah Webster on one of his more pretenshuss days, or maybe the odd Aussie who likes to write in all lower case, or perhaps the sincere, oh so very sincere, non-pretentious mate to the above cited cheek. Anesthesia is another matter entirely. It calms buttocks of all persuasions in AE.
  14. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    New York
    USA - English
    I certainly do not agree with it. I learned the word as "aesthetic", and I spell it that way, as do most Americans. Do you think that most Americans put on airs and are pretentous buttocks? I do not consider it to be "putting on airs" to spell this word with an "a" in first position any more than I would consider it putting on airs to spell the name of the hero of Virgil's epic as "Aeneas", instead of "Eneas".

    This is not to say that American English is devoid of opportunites to put on airs with diphthongs; I do it every time I write the word as "oecumenical".
  15. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    Like GWB and kitenok, I learned it as "aesthetic".
  16. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English

    I learned "aeroplane" but I changed with the times.
  17. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It seems that with esthetic you are way ahead of the times.
  18. Imber Ranae Senior Member

    English - USA
    Sorry, don't agree.
  19. UUBiker Senior Member

    Arlington, Virignia
    United States, English
    I've only ever lived in the United States. I'm only familiar with "aesthetic." "Esthetic" looks silly. They both pass the spellcheck, though.
  20. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    New York
    USA - English
    And the Times, too.
  21. mplsray Senior Member

    It should be added that the variant is preceded with the world also, making it "appreciably less common" than a variant preceded by or. (It's worth mentioning that a variant preceded by or may be equally common than the variant written first.) The quote is from page 12a or the Explanatory Notes at the beginning of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.
  22. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I also looked up aegis which Merriam-Webster lists as also egis, which also indicates aegis predominates in AE. (Any egis users here?)

    If I can generalise: <ae> seems to hold sway in the literary AE whereas <e> holds sway in medical AE (eg gynecology [BE: gynaecology], anesthetic [BE: anaesthetic], pediatrics [BE: paediatrics]).
  23. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    An alternative suggestion to natkretep's literary/medical split ...
    <ae> remains the favourite if it is at the beginning of a word, otherwise <e> is preferred.
    It's just an idea.
  24. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    I've noticed that pre-Webster spellings are commonly used in AE where an aesthetic, antique, or cultural feel is appropriate: namely 'aesthetic', 'archaeology', and 'theatre'. Where the USAan in the street writes 'archeology' and 'theater', the professional organizations for both often prefer the pre-Webster/British/posh spelling.
  25. Imber Ranae Senior Member

    English - USA
    That's definitely true for 'threatre/theater', but 'archaeology' and 'aesthetic' are by far the more common forms, and they do not typically have any sort of cultural or professional feel to them.
  26. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    I did a little word search on words that include the "ae". I deliberately ignored those that were at the end of the word as they would be mostly Latin plurals.

    I quit my research before it was done because it was making too long a list.

    As you can see there are precious few "ae" words that are part of the common vocabulary. I think "ae" words are an endangered species.

    7 letter words, "ae" in various positions, partial list:



  27. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    At the risk of going off-topic, I wouldn't spell "anemia" with "ae", but I would always spell "aegis" and "aesthetic" with "ae". I honestly didn't know that "esthetic" was a possible spelling until I read this thread.
  28. UUBiker Senior Member

    Arlington, Virignia
    United States, English
    I'd say that the Webster spelling reforms are ripe for a good, through popular treatment in book form, having been largely but not wholly adopted. "Esthetic" was certainly a miss for Webster (along with others that I have had Brits tell me are the American forms of words that seem odd to me).

    I'm inconsistent on ae versus e, but of course spelling in English is inconsistent-- I think I'd use "eon" over "aeon," but "aegis" over "egis." The good news for all of these words (I think) is that nearly all are Latin or Greek words; few seem to be Anglo-Saxon, Germanic or even Norman French. The discussion is over, really, not about how to "spell" words in English, but how to transliterate them from another language.

    I'm sure no one cares, but before I said I lived no where other than the United States-- which isn't true. But the only English-speaking country I've ever lived in is the United States.

    I tend to think that "theater" is used in the United States as a common noun, but when used as a part of a proper noun, it becomes "Theatre" (ditto but less frequently "Centre"). I have difficulty visualizing anything other than "archaeology" appearing in the pages of National Geographic, however. I'm not sure where it would spelled any other way.

    Of note is that there is a distinction in my book between, say, eon, aeon and ... æon, which is how I would expect it to look in, say, the Book of Common Prayer (where I know it appears).
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2009
  29. eiwalch Senior Member

    USA, English
    I think of "esthetic" as related to "estheticians" (people who do in-patient beauty procedures like facial peels and such) and "aesthetic" as related to visual beauty. (US English).
  30. George French Senior Member

    English - UK
    I notice that the WR dictionary has

    aesthetic /iːsˈθɛtɪk, ɛs-/ (US also esthetic)
    colour (US color)

    It seems that our forum host recognises both aesthetic and esthetic as US spellings.


    If I had read esthetic before looking at the WR dictionary I would not have recognised the word.
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2010
  31. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    You're not alone in that, George. As an AE speaker I had the same reaction (see above).
  32. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    See The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery
  33. eiwalch Senior Member

    USA, English
    I didn't see anything on that site about estheticians. Here in the US, just about anyone can hang out a shingle as an esthetician and do non-surgical "beauty" procedures -- eyebrow waxing, facial peels, makeovers, possibly laser hair removal -- these are unregulated, non-medical procedures.

    Here's an explanation on

    I've never seen one of these people calling herself (I think of them all as women) an aesthetician. A cosmetologist, yes; an aesthetician, no. Hence, when I think of or see "esthetics" I think of these ladies.
  34. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Sorry, I rather presumed when you spoke of "inpatient beauty procedures" it was about cosmetic surgery as well as facial peels etc. I see what you mean now. A quick look for "esthetic professional" turns up lots and lots of them :)
  35. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Dueling diphthongs, batman!
    Not too many people realize that Economy (and the related Ecology) used to start with the OE in their original forms (while foetus never had it till recently :D ) That oe to e transition is more ancient history than (some of) the ae to e versions. The aesthetic version is still in transition and, if the cosmeticians have their say, will be a bifurcation (?)
  36. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    And still doesn't in many (most?) AE texts. :)
  37. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    In my reading of this vital controversy is that in the USA, "aesthetic" is a bit pretentious as compared to "esthetic".

    It seems vaguely European, and therefore "classier".

    In the same way Perrier is classier than club soda, so it seems that the class is bestowed upon the user of "aesthetic". (When you are drinking club soda all you are drinking is carbonated water, whereas when you are drinking Perrier, you are speaking French.)

    "Esthetic" is the workingman's spelling. Aesthetic is for the effete snobs, doctors (and my good friends from the UK :)).

    (Oh, and my spell checker appears to be amongst the effete snobs too!)
  38. NYInvictus

    NYInvictus New Member

    English - American
    I disagree. "Aesthetic" is the traditional way of referring to qualities that are appealing to the senses, particularly sights, sound and environmental stimuli. It is still used by the museum and arts fields in NYC with the ae combination. In contrast, "esthetics" has been adopted by the cosmetic industry and refers to all beautification methods that attempt to make women more appealing and beautiful. I think that the original spelling distances the use of the word from the more recent use of the word.

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