• aerie •
er-ree • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An eagle's nest or the nest of any other large bird that is built high above the ground. 2. Any place that looms high above the rest of the world.
Notes: Unfortunately, we do not use this beautiful word enough to settle on a spelling. Eyry is preferred in Britain while those of us in the US prefer the original aerie or aery. I like the British spelling because it resembles eye both in spelling and pronunciation, and distinguishes this word from airy.
In Play: Today this word distinguishes ordinary bird nests from those of the high-flyers: "Wade Rivers was happy to see the eagle aeries returning to the cliffs behind his house until the droppings from them began to accumulate below." Because it is a lovely word, however, it finds figurative uses even in conversations about cities: "From his glassy aerie atop the skyscraper, Taylor Mayde saw the people on the street below him as ants scurrying into his building, bringing him more and more money."
Word History: I prefer the British spelling above even though this word began its life as aerie "eagle's nest". This was French aire with the common suffix -ie added. French inherited the word from Late Latin area "bird of prey's nest", a word which began with the more down-to-earth original meaning "(empty) lot". How the meaning changed so much over the course of Late Latin remains unsettled. Today's word seems etymologically unrelated to Latin aerius "airy" from aer "air". Latin aer was aire by the time it percolated down to French, whence English borrowed it as air. Somehow the meaning of aer influenced that of area to produce the sense of a nest with a large area up in the air.
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