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Q From Gillian Christie, New Zealand: I am not sure how to spell the word I am asking about, as I have only ever heard it said. It could be aereated, aireated or even airiated. In my family it has always been used to mean “worked up, irritated, annoyed” as in “don’t get so aeriated about it”. Is our meaning “real” or just another of those odd family words. Hope you can help!

A It’s most certainly more than just a family word. It was once a fairly widely known colloquial term, though of limited circulation these days. It’s usually spelled aeriated, but also as airyated.

Your question takes me back more than half a century. I remember my mother, a Londoner, using the word, just as you have spelled it and with exactly that sense. It’s still very occasionally to be found in print:

The fans getting so aeriated at Mr Glazer’s takeover are all idiots.

Evening Standard, 16 May 2005.

David Crystal, in The English Language, argues that it’s Liverpool dialect. It certainly remains more often used there than in other parts of the UK and — for example — appears frequently in the works of the romantic novelist Lyn Andrews, who was born in Liverpool:

“There’s no need to get all airyated with me, Betty! I was only telling you what me mam said,” he replied huffily.

To Love and to Cherish, by Lyn Andrews, 2010.

But your experience and mine shows that it has been distributed more widely (the Oxford English Dictionary marks it merely as “British regional). In your case, it seems certain that it was taken to New Zealand by British migrants. Many examples of both spellings appear in unedited texts online from several English-speaking countries, showing that the usage is still alive.

There’s no doubt that it’s based on aerated, with an extra vowel stuffed into the middle, something that can happen in casual speech. Other examples are athlete said as athelete, or the England football supporters’ chant of Engerland. The technical term for it is epenthesis, more strictly in this case anaptyxis since the extra sound is a vowel.

The error, if we can describe it as that, is very far from new. The Oxford English Dictionary has examples of aeriated in the place of aerated from as far back as 1794: “If a small heat be applied to the aeriated water, it parts with its fixed air” (fixed air was then the usual name for carbon dioxide), which is no more than seven years after the first known appearance of aerated. The OED records the colloquial term — defined as overexcited, angry or irate but spelled aerated — from 1912, though we may reasonably assume it could be decades older. However, its first citation for aeriated in our sense is as recent as 1974. Jonathon Green, in Green’s Dictionary of Slang, takes that back to a novel about the London underworld published four decades before:

I’ve never known a girl like you for getting airyated.

The Gilt Kid, by James Curtis, 1936.

What makes the derivation certain is that the anaptyxis is still around — we can find aerated in its standard English sense spelled with the extra vowel:

The course will be closed to golfers that day because the greens are being aeriated.

Rocky Mountain News (Denver), 10 May 2001.

The technical term aerated, for introducing a gas into a liquid, started to become known to the general public at the end of the eighteenth century through the invention by the Swiss watch maker Johann Schweppe of an effervescent drink made by bubbling carbon dioxide into water under pressure. Schweppe moved to London in 1793; by the turn of the century others were promoting a similar drink under names such as alkaline aerated water, though the term soda water soon replaced it because soda (sodium carbonate or washing soda) was added to imitate natural mineral waters. Later, the same process made a variety of flavoured fizzy drinks. Aerated became common in advertisements in Britain from the 1840s onwards.

I suspect that a once-famous London bakery called the Aerated Bread Company might also have had something to do with the genesis of the slang term. The ABC, as it was universally known in my youth through the tea shops that it ran, was founded in 1862. Its bread was made to rise without yeast through a patented process involving forcing carbon dioxide through the dough (its inventor considered it to be more hygienic because supposedly noxious fermentation by-products were avoided and the dough didn’t have to be kneaded by workers who may have had dirty hands).

The idea of somebody becoming inflated from anger, just like the bread, must have appealed, as must that of becoming emotionally effervescent like the spurting water from the soda siphon or the fizz from an opened bottle of pop.

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