• ethereal •
Pronunciation: ee-thi-ree-êl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Flimsy, wispy, airy, floating along the edge of existence. 2. (Chemistry) Related to ether.
Notes: This charming word is the adjective from ether, which to the ancient Greeks was the crystal clear upper air breathed by the gods on Mount Olympus. That is where the sense of "airiness" originated. This word may be used adverbially with the usual suffix, ethereally. The quality it represents is ethereality. While this word's sound and meaning are beautiful as they are, I think the poetic—and now archaic—spelling, æthereal, gives it a more angelic and, well, ethereal appearance.
In Play: Spirits are the most likely creatures to be ethereal: "Charlene? She just swished through the house like an ethereal spirit on a mission without speaking to anyone." Untouchable objects are also ethereal: "Sidney Couch putters around an ethereal garden of images and ideas he has created in his mind and has very little contact with the real world." (I can understand Sidney.)
Word History: Ether comes to English from Greek aither "pure upper air breathed by the gods on Olympus". This word, interestingly enough, is a noun from the verb aithein "to ignite, light, set on fire". The connection would seem to be either the ethereality of fire or the fact that fires were kept in the temples of the gods. This is suggested by a Latin word of the same origin, aedis "temple, building", a word at the bottom of Latin aedificium, which came to English, via French, as edifice. (We owe Jacob Rossignuolo of Melbourne, Australija, much more than an ethereal expression of our gratitude for suggesting today's misty Good Word.)