The meaning of words with A-A-O vowels

Ferre Alpaerts, 1984


This paper explores patterns of meaning in language, through the vowels of words. According to language sciences, the sound of words has no meaning in itself. The relation between the word-sound and its meaning is arbitrary associated with a particular meaning. Linguists assume that meaning arises from grammar, phonetics does not make any contribution. In this traditional view a phoneme corresponds solely to an act of making sound. What if there is a relationship of meaning between words and vowels, and over different languages? This may indicate a profound language structure that can be visualized through the vowels. This paper examines this possible connection for the vowel combination A-A-O. Alpaerts shows that the hypothesis of genetic semantics, that vowels (and probably consonants also) are systematically and logically applied when expressing meaning, are confirmed.


That phonemes would have a codic meaning seems at first sight scarcely credible. Common sense refers to the wide variety of languages in terms of sound form. The starting point of genetic semantics is of course not that words mean the same when they sound phonetically the same. Placing words in a semantic matrix is more than classifying acoustic patterns. The phonetic code relates to a specific characteristic in this pattern.

Genetic semantics postulates a phonetic module, a group of neurons that converts words into genetic code characters, combinatorial characters tailored to the orientation logic that controls a thinking space. The giving of meaning implies a well-integrated mental software for each level of complexity, which must also combine the production of meaning of these levels. Both the smallest elements of meaning (‘features’) and the largest (Roland Barthes’ ‘textures’) contribute to integrated giving of meaning. The large units include the little such as formulas include factors.


The meaning of 600 Dutch words that contain the vowels A, A and O, such as in ‘valavond’ (nightfall), were compared in several languages. AAO-translations of the Dutch AAO-words were examined in Hungarian (HG), Italian (IT) and Spanish (SP). In a lesser degree were used: English (EN), French (FR), Old and Modern Greek (OG and MG), Latin (LT), Romanian (RH), Polish (PL), Serbo-Croatian (SK) and Turkish (TS).

The choice of these languages was determined by the available dictionaries. For the first four languages, the control of AAO-words was fully done.

Of the 600 basic words, keywords were selected that refer to the AAO-form in more than one way. Thus, ‘duidelijk’ (clearly) refers to the AAO-form via Hungarian (HG, lathato) and Italian (IT, marcato). Certain words were not included, such as the keyword ‘naar beneden’ (down), which also refers to the AAO-form in two languages (SP, abajo, IT, abbaso) because it does not contain separate findings but related forms.

In this way, a list of 18 keywords was created: aanvaller (attacker), bijtend (abrasive), boor (drill), drukte (stampede), duidelijk (clear), duur (costly), geld (money), gierigaard (haggler), godsdienstig (religious), landloper (vagabond), lap (rag), omarmen (embrace), opsnijder (braggart), rustig (placid), ruw (raw), slotenmaker (locksmith), verbergen (conceal), verbittering (rancor), verdorven (abandoned), verkwistend (wasteful), woestenij (wasteland), wormstekig (maggoty).

Because some keywords are related, the words were classified into 8 themed clusters.

  1. Attacker (abrasive, rancor, raw, warlock, abandoned)
  2. Dead (religious)
  3. Haggler (costly, money, wasteful)
  4. Border (clear, maggoty, wasteland, drill, rag, vagabond)
  5. Braggart
  6. Rest and unrest (placid, stampede)
  7. Conceal (locksmith)
  8. Upholster (embrace)


meaning of AAO-vowels
Meaning of AAO-vowels

1. Attacker (abrasive, rancor, raw, warlock, abandoned)

The direct physical violence

A few AAO-words refer to acts of violence: attack (assalto, attaco IT), assault (assalto, IT), mass-murder (massacro IT), violence (fracaso SP), cut the throat (scannato IT), bad treatment (strapazzo IT), undermine (alamos HG).

The person who performs the attack: assassin (matador SP), exterminator (vastador LT), hunter (cazador SP, Aktaïon OG) , werewolf (lupo mannaro IT), villain (malvado SP), assailant (tamado HG), destroyer (vastador LT).

Some attacks are directed against the authority: insurgent, rebel, mutineer (lazado HG).

Assault against property: robbing (harpago LT), capture (zsakmanyol HG).

The attack causes pain (fajdalom HG) and possibly death (OG thanatos). It is terrifying (aggaszto HG), nasty (cagnazzo IT), terrible (macabro IT). It’s a torment (Tantalus OG, Tantalo IT).

Because the AAO-form often refers to the attacker, it is possible to indicate specific opponents. Genetic semantics helps identify these emotional indications to replace them with arguments: barbaric (barbaro SP, IT), vandal (vandalo IT), heathen (pagano SP, IT), pagan (marrano IT), freemason (francmason SP).

The disease attack

Terms such as ‘stain‘ suggests a force that contaminates and infects through a contact. This representation is in the comparison of the bad apple that the other infectsoverripe (straffatto IT), rotten (passato IT), abandoned (malvado SP, abandonner FR), epidemic (jarvanyos HG), drag along (abstraho LT), contagious (ragalyos HG), cold (catarro SP), unhealthy (malsado SP, masano IT).

Disease attack due to lack of hygiene: the pig as a spreader of diseases (marrano SP), maggoty (tarmato and bacato IT), bleaching (slavato IT), bathtub (lavacro IT, lavabo NL), saliva, barfing (gargajo SP). Purity rules can equate to the removal of fine dining. No less than 12 AAO-words relate to flavors: abrasive (salato IT, harpos HG, dangkano MG), rancor (amaror LT, amaro IT, amargo SP), brackish and salty (salmastro, salato, smaccato IT, salado SP), anise (ajanlo HG) and another strong taste, the black radish (rabano SP, fafano IT).

The medical treatment as an attack on the body

Various medical practices are indicated by AAO-words: bloodletting (salasso IT), vomitive (hanytato HG).

The psychic attacks

Mad as a hatter (strapazzo IT), damned and curse (sagrato IT), plaintiff (panaszos HG), grudge (bantallom HG), paranoid (gyanakvo HG), bad omen (malanno IT). In addition to emotional psychic attacks, there is a rational form: slander (ragalon HG), bastard (bastardo IT), crafty (tacano SP), wrong (altato HG), paradox (paradox NL), anyhow (malgrado IT) and antagonist (antagonist NL).

Attacks on the social body

The resistance of oppositional social forces can be condemned by the use of AAO-words that usually denote evil: clandestine (altato HG), pig-headed or rebellious (makrancos HG).

Social impurity is sometimes situated primarily on sexuality: obscene or abandoned  (bardasso IT), extramarital (bastardo IT and SP), shameless (spavaldo IT).

Errors against the etiquette are attacks on the social body and thus unclean: offensive (malgarbo IT), barbarous (barbaro IT), unmannerly (malnato IT), scandalize or scandal (scandalo IT, skandalon NG), ill-mannered brute (marrano IT).

The attack on culture

The Nazi’s pursuit of the ‘pure race’ coincided with emphasizing the importance of the borders, rejecting compromises and fear of betrayal: sacrifice (abandon EN), go awol (atpartol HG), deserter (pasado SP), mutineer (lazado HG), change-over (atkapcsol HG), propose (javasol HG), transactor (transactor LT), average (atlagos HG), advise (tanascol HG), recommend (ajanlo HG), attracted (attratto IT), unburdening (travaso IT).

Borderliners and deviants

The person who is different is a potential traitor for some people: alien (balzano IT), lonely, apart (maganos HG), abandoned (abandonner FR, abandono SP), unwed woman (hajadon HG), vagabond (csavargo HG, vagabond FR), vagrant (csavarog HG), soldier of fortune (kalandos HG), tramp (scasato IT), bearded (barbado SP), fear of betrayal, paranoid (paranoïa NL, MG).

2. Death (religious)

Death (Thanatos OG, MG), fatal (halalos HG), danse macabre (danza macabro IT).

The limits of life

Pass away (patrasso IT), mortal (halando HG), pregnant (varandos HG), rest or remains (avanzo IT), deathly pallor (cagnazzo IT), stone cold (marmato IT).

Which precedes death

The disease is an attack on the body that may result in its decay: sickly (malsado SP), disease (malato IT). Other terms that refer to dying are: fatigue (faraszto HG), tired (affranto IT), collapse (labasco LT), paralyzed (attratto IT), powerlessness (marasmo SP), weak (cascado SP), waste away (nyavalyog HG), stagger (labasco LT), quit or leave (abandon FR), doomed (spallato IT), faded (passato IT), towing (lappango HG), delay (atraso SP).

Meetings with death

Murderer (matador SP), mass murder (massacro IT), hazardous undertaking (azzardo IT).

The abode of the dead

Traditionally, Egypt was regarded as the land of the cult of the dead, the kingdom of death. Compare Pharaoh, and the excavation of Toet Ank-Amon, known in sensational articles in the press, because there was a curse (Sagrato IT) on the excavators. The accumulation of AAO-words helps to enhance the emotional atmosphere surrounding such events. Leader of the expedition was the English Lord Carnavon. The grave is the last resting place where the body is stored: catacombs (catacombe NL, FR). Another place of death is the slaughterhouse (abator RS, abatoir FR).

The symbolic representation of death

The one who takes life is sometimes represented as the mower (kaszalo HG), or the harvester (arato HG). His instrument is the scythe or the sickle (falcato IT). Opposite the living world stands the dead world of the desert, wasteland (paramo SP). Another symbol is the worm, which is a symbolic image that belongs to the empire of the grave, of death and chaos: maggoty (tarmato and bacato IT).

The attitude of the living versus the dying

Sadness (affano IT), sad or mournful (banatos HG), an unexpected sad event (fracaso SP), lament (nyavalyog HG), wretched (panaszos HG), thoughtful (abrandos HG).

The cult of death

The importance of the dead cult for the creation of religions is evident: faithful, pious or religious (vallasos and astatos HG), consecrated (sagrado SP), blessed (aldasos HG), holy (sagardo SP), worshipper (amator LT), pilgrim (zarandok HG), papacy (papato IT, papado SP).

The Hebrew root for holy means ‘secluded’: separately (maganos HG), imaging (abrazol HG), crumble (alamos HG), keep from (abstraho LT), rancid (cagnazzo IT), scrape, decrease or shave (abrado LT), drain pipe (canalon SP).

The dead belong to the past, the boundary behind us

The cult of death sometimes takes the form of ancestral worship, such as in Chinese Confucianism: ancestors (pasado SP), gender or descent (casato IT), previously or past (atraso SP), paragogue.

3. Haggler (costly, money, wasteful)

Haggler (garasos HG, avaro SP), compare ‘Arpagon’, Moliere’s miser. Avaricious or greedy (tacano SP). The agony and fear of losing the object, in this case the life, but also for the bill presented to us by life. A relatively large number AAO-words refer to persons, actions, objects that have to do with money: money (danaro IT), acquire (vasarlo HG), obtainable (kaphato HG), recipient (ragados HG), take possession of (vasarlo HG), salary (galardon SP), payer (pagador SP), disadvantageous (hatranyos HG), costly (sacato, stacaro IT), street-poor (scarnato povero IT), rich man (nababbo IT), trade (trafago SP), client or buyer (vasarlo HG), bargain (alkalom HG), pawn (arrhabo LT), private person (maganzo HG), lease of land (appalto IT), manager of an estate (castaldo IT), assessor (tasador SP), capital shares (carato IT).

4. Border (clear, maggoty, wasteland, drill, rag, vagabond)

Among the 600 Dutch words that can be translated into AAO-words, ‘border’ does not occur. This may be because the list is quite limited, it should include 1/64th of all Dutch words, which is impossible because there are only a limited number of words with a triplet sound. The importance of this term is evidenced by numerous examples. The attack is a boundary crossing and cleanliness is the maintenance of borders.

Confined spaces

Mansion or palace (palazzo IT), souterrain (alagsor HG), a cabin on board of a ship (camarote SP), hut (capanno IT), bungalow (nyaralo HG), reception room (tarsalgo HG), parvis (sacrato IT), stage (tablado SP).

The boundary is not always a delimitation or wall. With regard to a house there is the roof: parasol (parasol NL). In Egyptian mythology, the arbour or tabernacle with reed beams is the house of the god of the dead: arbour (capanno IT), reeds (calamo IT). The boundary between light and darkness is also provided by trees with their wide leaf crown: poplar (alamo SP), plane tree (platano SP), sandalwood (sandalo SP), apple tree (manzano SP), chestnut tree (kastanjeboom NL, castagno IT), orange tree (sinaasappelboom NL, naranjo SP), almond tree (amandelboom NL).

Drawing, shifting and affecting borders

Tear to pieces (marcangol HG), hold back or take off (abstraho LT), crumbling (darabos HG), broken (lit.) (affranto IT), removal of a diseased part (ablation FR), scaffold (cadalso SP), corrode (alamos HG), gnawer (ragasalo HG), take, amputate or scratch off (abrado IT), scratch (ascalpo LT).

Substances that cross the borders of the body are considered dangerous, polluting: saliva (gargajo SP). The latter also applies to what is removed from the outside of the body. Some types of labour correspond to body elimination functions: hair salon (kapsalon NL, abrado LT), shave off (abrado LT), erasing knife (raspador SP), physical waste (afvalstoffen NL), laxative (hashajto HG).

The following terms refer to adjusting and clarifying boundaries: proportional (aranyos HG), adaptor (adaptador SP), take one’s measure for (adagol HG), dosing (adagol HG), fitting (adapto LT), sculptor (farago HG), carpenter (asztalos HG).

A number of AAO-words relate to affecting boundaries: transition (trapaso IT), transit (astaro HG), passage (astaro HG), abrasive (athatol HG), engraving (grabado SP), plough (arado SP, aratro IT, arator LT), spade (cavador SP), farmer (arator LT), the soldier digging trenches (zapador SP), drill (trapano IT, taladro SP), gunshot (balazo SP), hornet (tabano SP), maggoty (tarmato and bacato IT).

Limitation opposite disorder

Cleaning and tidying up, apart from preventing diseases, also separates, clarifies, limits: clear (lathato HG), clarify (acclaro LT, marcato IT), transparent (atlatszo HG), exact (szabatos HG), poignant or striking (talalo HG), neat or tidy (takaros HG), trim (takaros HG).

The border, boundary or limited space: adjacent (hataros HG), demarcate (hatarol), close or next, adjacent to (accanto IT), apart (maganos HG), wholly (affato IT), somewhere (valahol HG).

Determining theoretical limits: classify

Decide or make decisions (hataroz HG), agreement (trattato IT), pact (tratado SP), standpoint (allaspont HG), voter (szavazo HG), ballot box (cantaor SP), guarantee or warrant (szavator HG), registered (ajanlott HG).

Unclear boundaries

Deviations from the order, from the ‘right way’: bending road (anfratto IT), winding (kanyargos HG), cumbersome (zavaros HG), discontinuous (szaggatott HG), staccato (NL, FR, IT). Sometimes unclearness is caused by what’s not in place:  storeman (kaktaros HG), garbage (farrago SP), chaos (sartago LT), wasteland (paramo SP, gangaço PT), garbled (zavaros HG), swirl (kavarog HG), mishmash (farrago LT), turbid (zavaros HG), sticky (ragados HG), swamp (pantano SP, IT).

Boundaries are sacred because they separate segments or states that are different in a sacral way: holy (sagrado SP). Purity laws, such as nutritional regulations, are sacred. For example, pork meat is forbidden for some religions: pig (marrano SP).

5. Braggart

The number of AAO-words for this term is surprisingly high: braggart (salaco, alazon LT, fanfarron SP, gradasso IT, spampano IT). The braggart wishes to impress: impressive (hatasos HG).

6. Rest and unrest (placid, stampede)


To be left alone, on sabath or saturday (sabado SP, sabato IT), casual (abandon EN), peaceful (pacato SP), quiet (callado SP). The anchor is a symbol of rest. The list does not contain an AAO-word for ‘anchor’, it does for ‘grappling hook’ (harpago LT), hook or loop (akaszto HG).


Anxiety can arise in a relationship, when the connection between two people becomes a crush. As a result, there arises a troubled urge to detach themselves. ‘Band’ and ‘loosen’ refers to the symbolism of the loop (akaszto HG), alarming (aggaszto HG), disturbing (zavaro HG), fuss (trafago HG, pampano IT). Various types of noise are indicated by the AAO-sound: loud noise (baccano IT), banging or sounding (csattano HG), rumble, beating or rattling (zakatol HG), barking (latrato IT), sound (harangoz HG), chime (harangszo HG), clapper (badajo SP), doorknocker (llamador SP). Human noise: bold voice (kwadrato IT), woofer (altavoz SP), blabber, clapper (badajo SP), chatterbox (hablador SP), narrator (narrador SP).


The Belgian king Léoplod II called music ‘expensive noise’, others believe that music is calming, peaceful (pacato SP). In ancient times, music was like something holy, it had to purify the feelings of the people and honour the ancestors: Saint (sagrado SP), ancestors (pasado SP), listen or listener (hallgato HG), singing evening (zangavond NL).

7. Conceal (locksmith)

The hidden is what lies behind the boundary

One is hiding something to protect it from attackers: rob (harpago LT), riddle (talalos HG), enigmatic (zavaros HG), mystery (arcano IT). The hidden constitutes the contents (tartalom HG) of the storage space. The lock makes that content inaccessible to intruders: padlock (candado SP), locksmith (magnano IT, lakatos HG), bolt (skandalon OG). The locksmith is a transgressor, someone who has access to the secret: discover (hallazgo SP), reveal (acclaro LT). The hiding: mantle (palastol HG), pants (panalon SP, RM, pantalon FR), wide jacket (tabarro IT), overcoat (pastrano IT), blanket (takaro HG).

 Floor covering

Three AAO-words refer to the covering of the earth: paving (lastrato IT), asphalt (SP, IT, aszfaltoz HG), grind (cascajo SP).

Hidden purposes

Covertly (arcano LT), far-fetched (zavaros HG), flattery (halago SP), flatterer (palpator LT), sham (pasado SP), wriggle (kanyarog HG), winding (kanyargos HG).

8. Upholster (embrace)

Full of something (lit.) (plagado SP), fully (affatto IT).

To fill: bottling (palackoz HG), pour over (travaso IT), pitcher (canator SP), content (tartalom HG), cargo (cargazon SP), loaded (cargado SP).

The terms are strongly related to boundaries or strings: magnitude (tamano SP), embrace (atkarol HG), clasp (abrazo SP).

Filled: saturation (hartazgo SP), density of liquid (trabazon SP).


Statistically, one triplet word (a word containing three vowels) in 64 should have the AAO-form. There seems to be no reason why some triplet words would appear more than others or why some words could not be traced to a triplet word. Unless, for the latter case, the practical reason that commonly used words appear shorter than little used, cf. the law of Zipf. In fact, the number of triplet words per language is much lower than its total number of words. Certain triplet words are more common in one language and almost non in the other. The data provided by the current state of research are therefore insufficient to calculate whether the number of Dutch words referring to more than one AAO-triplet word is significantly higher than statistically expected. Strictly speaking, these data thus provide no evidence of the correctness of the hypotheses of genetic semantics.

The fact that some Dutch words refer to different triplet forms, according to the translation or the synonyms, is also not a refutation of the theory.

  • An object, event, etc. can be classified in several ways. The word ‘cow’ eg. can be interpreted in different ways. In the Persian religion, the cult of the cow and the fire are connected. The same connection is found in ancient Chinese literature. When, however, there is not thought of the meat of the cow, but to her milk, as in Hinduism, one probably finds other results.
  • It is not always clear which association is used. Different colours can be used in a funeral, but this does not mean that ‘death’ in different cultures will be given a different place in the reference matrix. It means that one refers to different notions of death.
  • A chosen triplet form can say more or less about the meaning of what is being described. For example, Abaddon is the angel of abyss, and ‘abyss’ has an AAO-form in two languages: (SP) barramo and (IT) baratro. According to German philosopher Hans Jonas, Achamoth is the wisdom in her fallen form. ‘Away with’ (literally ‘down with’) is in Spanish abajo and Italian abbasso. Deep and thorough (HG, alapos), steep (SP, tajado). It all seems to refer to the same idea of vertical movements. But ‘abyss’ is in Greek abyssos (AIO-form). The listed AAO-words represent one aspect of this vertical relationship. But this appears only after a more extensive investigation involving more triplet forms.
  • Because and in so far as the social system is in conflict with itself, the words referring to it are unclear. This not only shows in the triplet words, but also in eg. ’employer’ (werkgever NL) with which in Dutch they indicate those who provide the capital and the means of production while the workers are called ’employee’ (werknemers NL) those who take work. For the same reason, a word like ‘captain’ (HG, szazados) can be classified under ‘helpers’ instead of with those who are helped.

Despite the lack of statistical data, exceptions and unusable material, the 600 AAO-words confirm a major hypothesis of genetic semantics. It seems unlikely that if one would take 600 random items from a Dutch dictionary, they would succeed in connecting them with a clear meaning and a triplet sound. The meaning of an acoustic triplet form is not so clear that one learns to notice her, but it is clear enough to reconstruct her from the material.

A broadly based research, with eg. a few different triplet-forms in a hundred languages and all 64 triplet-forms in some unrelated languages would allow clearer conclusions to be drawn. As a result, of the 550 words it will not be confirmed as belonging to the AAO-meaning. However, one can expect that some of these words, along with the unclassified, will be more clearly defined and that the complex relationships can be distinguished.

This paper is a truncated and adapted version of the original research of 1984.