definition of ax by The Free Dictionary

ax 1


ax 2

 (ăks) or axe

v. ax·ed, ax·ing, ax·es Nonstandard

Our Living Language Ax, a nonstandard variant of ask, is often identified as an especially salient feature of African American Vernacular English. The usage occurs most frequently in the speech of Southern, working-class African Americans, but it occurs occasionally in the speech of working-class white Southerners as well. Interestingly, it was once common among New Englanders, but it largely died out in the early 19th century. The widespread use of this pronunciation should not be surprising since ax is a very old word in English, having been used in England for over 1,000 years. In Old English we find both āscian and ācsian, and in Middle English both asken and axen. Moreover, the forms with cs or x had no stigma associated with them. Manuscripts of Chaucer use asken and axen interchangeably, as in the lines “I wol aske, if it hir will be / To be my wyf” and “Men axed hym, what sholde bifalle,” both from The Canterbury Tales. The forms in x arose from the forms in sk by a linguistic process called metathesis, in which two sounds are reversed. The x thus represents (ks), the flipped version of (sk). Metathesis is a common linguistic process around the world and does not arise from a defect in speaking. Nevertheless, ax has become stigmatized as substandard—a fate that has befallen other words, like ain’t, that were once perfectly acceptable in literate circles.

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


or axe


n., pl. ax•es (ˈæk sɪz) n.

1. a tool with a blade on a handle or helve, used for hewing, cleaving, chopping, etc.

2. Slang. a jazz instrument, esp. a guitar or saxophone.

3. the ax,

a. a sudden, peremptory dismissal, as from a job.

b. a usu. summary removal or curtailment.


4. to shape or trim with an ax.

5. to chop, split, or break open with an ax.

6. to dismiss, restrict, or remove, esp. brutally or summarily: Congress axed the budget.


have an ax to grind, to have a particular personal or selfish motive.

[before 1000; Old English æx, æces; akin to Old High German acc(h)us, a(c)kus, Old Norse øx, ǫx, Gothic aquizi, Latin ascia (<*acsiā), Greek axinē]



Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

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