Aesthetic or Ascetic

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The words aesthetic and ascetic look similar and sound nearly identical, but they differ significantly in meaning.

Aesthetic

Aesthetic, sometimes spelled æsthetic, is from a Greek word meaning “sentient” or “capable of perception.” In English usage, aesthetic means “having to do with beauty” or “having an appreciation for beauty.” It can also be used as a synonym for beautiful itself, but that’s less common. The noun form, aesthetics, is the branch of philosophy dealing with beauty, art, and taste.

The improvements to the building were only aesthetic; it was no more functional than before.

Sam had an unusual aesthetic sense about music and poetry.

Ascetic

Ascetic also comes from the Greek, but from a different word that means “laborious.” The noun form is asceticism, which is a religious or philosophical belief in the virtue of self-denial and self-discipline. If someone is described as ascetic, it means he or she avoids luxury and ease, preferring self-imposed hardship or rigor.

In preparing for his first marathon, Jim became ascetic in his diet and training.

The Puritans, as much as any other Christian sect, placed a high value on an ascetic lifestyle.

There’s quite a difference between these two similar-sounding words. Don’t confuse them.

I wonder if it’s possible to be both aesthetic and ascetic in one’s approach to life?

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About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

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  3. CFloyd
    CFloyd07-24-2013

    What would be a more original usage of aesthetic? I hadn’t known it had a different original meaning.

    With the Puritan example, it could almost seem the two are antonyms in modern vernacular – The Puritans did not lead an aesthetic lifestyle, but instead engaged in ascetic works. ?

    Love these sorts of posts.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko07-24-2013

      I’m not aware of a different usage of aesthetic, Cheryl. I only meant to differentiate the English usage from the literal Greek meaning (sentient).

      They have different connotations, but they are not strictly antonyms. Something can be ascetic (in the sense of austere, plain, unadorned) and also aesthetic (beautiful). A person can be both ascetic (rigorously self-disciplined) and aesthetic (appreciative of beauty) at the same time as well.

  4. Ilonka Halsband
    Ilonka Halsband07-24-2013

    Thanks for this! More valuable tidbits to help broaden my appreciation of English.

  5. Sharon
    Sharon07-24-2013

    Ha, we were just talking about these words last night at dinner. (I know, who has this kind dinner discussion?) Anyway, my daughter brought me a DVD about Russian ballet dancers that had this quote: “ballet’s rigorous aesthetic alchemy.” So, I guess my kids will be reading this post as “homework.” We also talked about “alchemy.” 🙂

    Oh, it been fine that your posts have been limited this summer. Our summer has also been busy so we haven’t had as much time to read them! I did appreciate the different pronunciations of words post.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko07-24-2013

      I don’t think I could tell you what “ballet’s rigorous aesthetic alchemy” means.

      Thanks for understanding.

  6. poorva bakshi
    poorva bakshi07-24-2013

    You are doing a good job here! 🙂

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