The noun 'an arch' and the adjective 'arch', pronounced IPA: /ɑːrtʃ/, (there are also a prefix, two etymological roots and various abbreviations written with the same four letters) form one of the sets of homophones listed by the then Poet Laureate Robert Bridges.
(For more, see Bridges homophones). AWE has a category listing our articles on each of these..
- The noun 'an arch' means 'a curved structure capable of bearing weight', although some arches, such as triumphal arches in ancient Rome, Admiralty Arch in London and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, are more purely ornamental. The word is derived from the Latin arcus, arcūs '[a] bow': you may want to see also arc - ark, which shares the derivation. There are meanings extended from that basic architectural shape, such as the 'arch' of the eyebrows, which make-up may seek to emphasize, or the arch of the feet which may 'fall' in unfortunate people fallen arches lead to flat feet), and especially in traditional poets the rainbow or arc de ciel in French and sometimes the sky ('the arch of heaven'.
- The verb 'to arch' means 'to build an arch, or arches for a building or space', or less literally 'to make such a shape', as when a cat (or any other vertebrate) may arch its back, either to stretch its muscles or to adopt a threatening posture.
- A much rarer verb, perhaps only used as a joke, means 'to shoot arrows from a bow' - 'to compete in archery'.
- The prefix arch-, from the Greek ἀρχι- (archi-) 'chief', 'principal', 'extreme', from ἄρχειν (archein) 'to take the lead', means 'the most important', 'the chief'. It is most used in religious terminology, as in archangel, archbishop, archdeacon and so on. This prefix is derived from a Greek original written with the letter χ ('chi'), and its English derivatives are sometimes pronounced with a guttural '-ch-' sound, as in Scots 'och' or German 'ich'; more usually with a '-k-' sound, as in 'archangel' and 'archimandrite' (the head of an Orthodox monastery. (Note that it can take the form 'archi-'.)
- The adjective arch is now mostly used of women, and means "slily saucy, pleasantly mischievous" (OED, 1885). A better synonym in the twenty-first century may be 'flirtatious', often involving playfulness and a sense of impudence. It is one of the curiosities of etymology that this meaning is derived from the prefix, as it was applied to such words as 'wag', 'knave' and 'face', in pseudo-compliment suggesting that the recipient was 'the best of' [fellows, etc], so that a woman who was arch was the most womanly, or attractive, of women. The implication of this now dated description is that there is much fluttering of eyelashes, and 'girlish' behaviour; it is not an adjective that will endear the user to any feminist of whom it is used