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Definition: To ask, commonly exhibited in the form “ax” and misinterpreted (very, very wrongly) as a bastardization or mispronunciation of the word “ask”.

Pronunciation: ack-SEE-yon


Old, old, oooooold English. This term is as “old as the hills”, and has been used (correctly!) in lieu of “ask” for thousands of years in native English speakers’ vocabularies.

Why this word?

Yesterday, I was listening to the NPR segment ‘All Things Considered’, and there was a fascinatingly frank examination of the word “ax” (or “aks”.)

[The most common stereotype of black vernacular is the pronunciation of the word “ask” as “ax.” “Ax” has gotten a bad rap for years. Pronounce “ask” as “ax,” and immediately many will assume that you’re poor, black and uneducated. New York City’s first African-American schools chancellor, Dr. Richard R. Green, put it on his list of “speech demons.” He insisted that “ax” be eradicated from students’ vocabulary.] -Shereen Marisol Meraji, for ‘All Things Considered’

That’s how the segment was begun. Instantly, I was hooked; fascinated and joyful for the broadcast’s decision to turn the lens on something so viciously wide-spread and unconsciously prescribed towards: The belief that there are Right or Wrong forms of vernacular.

Studying the history and large assemblance of a language like English is a lot like trying to keep the facts straight in a simple story of one afternoon from the verbal interpretation of a mentally-unstable crack addict with a known impulse habit to lie, club you over the head with anything handy, and steal your shoes. English has been influenced by every other language its speakers have ever come into contact with (and judging by the fact of “Britannia rules the waves”, that’s been borderline all of them, at some point.) And with the permeation of instant connection via the Internet, no linguistic group is safe.

You can argue True Etymologies and “accepted” declensions of nouns all day until you’re blue in the face, and with a room full of “experts”, to boot, but there’s no denying that if someone is understood by others THEN THE FORM OF THE LANGUAGE THEY ARE USING IS CORRECT. I cannot stress that enough. Language is constantly evolving to fit its speakers’ needs; it’s supposed to be quicksilver and hodgepodge and as erratic as those who know it. (Made by humans, for humans.) There will always be a general, overall form of said language that gets leaned on as an easy sort of code meant to bridge the gap between individual groups of speakers, but it will still be totally incorrect to say that the “accepted form” is Right, no question, and anything that shows divergence from the understood norm is Wrong.

The bottom-line, entire point of communication is to facilitate understanding. We haven’t cracked telepathy yet, so our words are the best thing we’ve got.

But, here in The States, there still lingers a terrible impression that certain forms of verbal speech are only the product of the uneducated, the poor, and the Bad, and it’s a stereotype which boils down to this country’s long-standing issues with assumed race. They’re unsure why predominately African/Carib-descent pockets of the U.S. stuck with using a form of acsian instead of switching to the much more popular “ask”, but the solidity of the use is undeniable. (Interestingly enough, “aks/ax” been heard used commonly by those from Chatham in Kent, England, as well. The frowned-upon attitude of the term is still alive and well over there, too, and the attached stigma of a dismissive judgment seems to be for anyone who uses it, regardless of their color.)

However– “Aks” is not the result of “lazy pronunciation” or a gap in education, either from at home or in the classroom. “Aks/Ax” is an old, old term dating back to the 8th century. It dates back to the time of Chaucer, back to the Coverdale Bible (the first completed English translation of the text.) And, Chaucer is considered to be one of THE definitive writers of the English language, ever. You can get a degree in studying Chaucer. Just Chaucer. A whole, legitimate, socially accepted degree, in studying just that one man’s work. And he used “ax”. It boggles me that someone can be lauded as very, very educated and worthy of respect by possessing a degree in studying a man who used “ax” instead of “ask”, but if that same person verbally speaks “aks/ax” instead of “ask”, they’re labeled a moron?

It can be argued that the soul of a person is reflected in their natural vernacular; their dialect, their indicative slang. This includes pronunciation. Judging someone’s inherent, intrinsic worth as a human being by the genuinely included terminology of their natural indigenous vernacular makes you look like the worst kind of jerk. There’s always a matter of peaceable “taste”, and of using your words to deliberately be an asshole, of course; but dismissing a person’s entire identity as Invalid if they use words you think are “stupid” is just… God, it’s just so bone-deep Wrong, I can’t even describe.

(It’d be ironically poetic if, far into the future, the accepted and “normal” use is to speak “aks” instead of “ask”. Like in Futurama!)

How to use the word acsian in a sentence?  

“Whether someone says, ‘Can I aks you a question?’, or ‘Can I ask you a question?’, it makes no difference. If you can accurately understand the conveyed meaning of that person’s words, then the form of acsian they pronounced won’t matter.”


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Written by Veronica Jacobs

Veronica Jacobs is a fiction writer, blogger, academic editor, and sci-fi enthusiast. Currently working freelance (with a background in English Literature), she spends most of her time writing.


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