Air - heir

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Air and heir are two homophones - both are pronounced to rhyme with 'care', 'fair', share' and 'pair' IPA: /ɛər/.

  • The air is the mixture of gases that fills the atmosphere and which we breathe. For more detail of its many uses, go to Air (meaning).
  • An heir (the 'h-' is silent) is a person who inherits property (or an aristocratic title, etc) from someone who has died - who receives it, or takes it over, from the dead person. Anyone can be an heir; but the heir is the single person who inherits the central property or title left by the dead person - there can only be one monarch, for example, so that the eldest child of George VI, Princess Elizabeth was his heir, and duly became Elizabeth II; Prince Charles, the current (2013) Prince of Wales is the heir apparent to the throne (that is, he will inherit unless he dies before his mother - to all appearances, he will be the next king). An heir presumptive is somewone who, it may be presumed, will be the heir (but a child with a better claim may yet be born). This is true of hereditary titles, monarchies etc. They are hereditable by their heirs-at-law, that is, the eldest child (traditionally the son) is recognised by law as the one who has the right to succeed to the title, or property. This may be referred to as his inheritance, both as it actually exists when the heir has inherited, and as it potentially exists before the heir inherits.
Scots law prefers the equivalent heritable to hereditable, and uses the adjective substantively in the plural, heritables, to distinguish property in land and rights, which must be inherited by the heir-at-law, from movables, which are those items of personal property which may be bequeathed or assigned to anyone. Perhaps the best word to use currently is inheritable for 'capable of being inherited'; scientists prefer the adjective heritable, although transmissible may sometimes be a more accurate term, and inheritable may be preferred by some.
Etymological note: the noun 'heir', the verb 'to inherit' with its derived noun 'inheritance' and the adjectives 'hereditary' and 'her[ed]itable' are all derived from the Latin root hērēditāre, 'to inherit', which in turn comes from hērēs, hērēdem, 'an heir'. Another derivation of this family is hērēditās, hērēditātem, the direct ancestor of 'heredity'.