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ax 1 (ăks)
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n. & v.
Variant of axe.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 
ax 2 (ăks) or axe
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v. ax·ed, ax·ing, ax·es
Nonstandard
Variant of ask.

Our Living Language Ax, a nonstandard variant of ask, is often identified as an especially salient feature of African American Vernacular English. The usage occurs most frequently in the speech of Southern, working-class African Americans, but it occurs occasionally in the speech of working-class white Southerners as well. Interestingly, it was once common among New Englanders, but it largely died out in the early 19th century. The widespread use of this pronunciation should not be surprising since ax is a very old word in English, having been used in England for over 1,000 years. In Old English we find both āscian and ācsian, and in Middle English both asken and axen. Moreover, the forms with cs or x had no stigma associated with them. Manuscripts of Chaucer use asken and axen interchangeably, as in the lines "I wol aske, if it hir will be / To be my wyf" and "Men axed hym, what sholde bifalle," both from The Canterbury Tales. The forms in x arose from the forms in sk by a linguistic process called metathesis, in which two sounds are reversed. The x thus represents (ks), the flipped version of (sk). Metathesis is a common linguistic process around the world and does not arise from a defect in speaking. Nevertheless, ax has become stigmatized as substandarda fate that has befallen other words, like ain't, that were once perfectly acceptable in literate circles.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

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