aegis

Here’s a word from the ages. Its opening ae – originally (and often still) a digraph (æ) – bespeaks a Latin origin, but if you go for that, the Greek will get your goat: it originally comes from Greek aigis, referring to a shield or breastplate of Zeus or Athena, with a gorgon’s head in the middle, and it’s thought that aigis comes from aix, “goat,” because of a type of shield made of goatskin. But just as we no longer make shields of goatskin, we no longer make aegis sound similar to I guess; now, thanks to vowel shifting and a palatalization of the velar, it’s more akin acoustically to the Irish English eejits (which is idiots pronounced as though it were written in Irish Gaelic). Ah, geez! And the watchful eye, fortunately, is now not that of Zeus, Athena, or a gorgon; it might be that of an elder, if that’s not ageist, but it can be the auspices of any organization or authority, be it sage, aggie, or even Regis. If you know this word, you probably know the two words that usually come before it and the one that usually comes after it: under the aegis of… If you’re a weaponry buff, you may also know that it’s the name of an integrated weapon system used by the US Navy on some destroyers and cruisers. Which seems rather a return to the gorgonizing eye. But not, I hope, to the goat.

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