Angel - angle

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Angel and angle are two words that can be confused, in reading and by typing. Both words exist, so a spellchecker will not mark one of them as wrong. So be sure that you have the one you mean. They are distinguished by pronunciation and meanings.

  • An angel (the '-g-' + '-e-' combination is pronounced with a 'soft '-g-', like a '-j-'; the initial '-a-' is like that in 'day' and 'say'; IPA: /ˈeɪndʒ əl/) is a supernatural being mentioned in many religions. The word is derived from the Greek ἅγγελος ('a[n]gelos'), via Latin angelus, meaning 'a messenger'. An angel is 'a messenger from God'. Other meanings of the word follow this main meaning. For example, the mediaeval coin called 'an angel' was so called because it had a picture of the (arch)angel Michael killing a dragon stamped on it.
Medieval Christianity had a whole section of theology devoted to angels called (logically enough) angelology. This recognized nine orders (or ranks) of angels, divided into three hierarchies, the first consisting of cherubim, seraphim and thrones; the second of dominations, virtues and powers; and the third of principalities, archangels and angels. OED ascribes the theory to Dionysius the Areopagite (Pseudo-Dionysius) in his treatise Celestial Hierarchies of the 5th century CE.
  • Angle (pronounced with an '-a-' like that in 'can' and 'man' and a 'hard' '-g-' as in 'get'; IPA: /ˈæŋ gəl/) has several meanings. In academic work, you are most likely to see it as
    • a mathematical treatment of a 'corner': a measurement of a divergence of direction between two lines, traditionally measured in degrees. Various figurative usages derive from this, and one (disputed) historical one:
    • the Angles are the Germanic people who, along with the Saxons, migrated to Britain during the 5th and 6th centuries CE. OED gives the etymology as being from "the people of Angul, -ol, -el, ON. Öngull ... a district of Holstein, so called from its shape, the word being the same as ANGLE n.1". The word is in the combination Anglo-Saxon, and is the source of England and English, as well as East Anglia. For more on the Angles and their language, go to Old English.
One of the earliest recorded clerical jokes is that of Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) who is said to have seen blond, blue-eyed slaves and asked where they came from. On being told they were 'Angles' (Angli in Latin), he replied "Non Angli, sed angeli" ("Not Angles, but angels"). It would be an error nowadays to confuse a face 'like an angel' (good) with a face 'like an angle' (not good).

An angle is also an archaic word for a 'hook', used most commonly as a verb to mean 'to catch fish, mostly as a sport or pastime'. There is an old-fashioned mock-pompous circumlocution for anglers: 'brothers of the angle'.