Sexual clippings

Reported by Mark Mandel on ADS-L yesterday, ace for asexual ‘person who feels no sexual attraction to others’ (independent of feeling romantic interest) — a clipping of the base word, making the term roughly comparable in form to the clippings bi for bisexual, homo for homosexual, and hetero for heterosexual (though these items are not fully comparable in tone or style). Ace stands out because, unlike the others, it’s not a prefix on its own, but rather a prefix (a-) plus the following consonant.

OED2 on asexual has been unrevised for nearly a century and has only the use in biology for ‘not sexual, without sex’ and more generally, for ‘without sexuality’, with cites from 1896 (the “asexual existence” in monastic contexts), 1903 (“women are more asexual than men”, meaning that men are more sexual than women), and 1928 (D.H. Lawrence, “their false sex and hypocrisy” … “their asexual sexuality”).

Urban Dictionary has the clipping, in this entry:

Asexual to any degree. Using “ace” for “asexual” gained popularity on AVEN ( and has inspired the use of the spade as a symbol of the asexual community. (Cheerio_Koroke 12/24/08)

(a little joke on ace of spades, apparently). Like the other sexual clippings and their bases, this one can be used as either adjective (“I’m ace”) or noun (“I’m an ace”).

The cites seem to all be pretty recent, but within the relevant community the word seems to be taken for granted. Here’s a passage Mandel found where it’s used without explanation in the event name Carnival of Aces:

an asexual ya [Young Adult] heroine? why not? by R.J. Anderson 11/27/12

NOTE: This post was written as part of the November 2012 Carnival of Aces, with the subject of Fiction. (link)

Later in this piece:

On the other hand, I also didn’t want to fall into the trap of treating asexuality in a careless, superficial way, or allowing the non-ace reader to mistake it for a symptom of Tori’s abnormal biology (a key plot point of the story). So I spent a lot of time reading ace blogs and Tumblrs to find out what cliches and myths about asexuals to avoid and if possible, to directly address and counter them.

11 Responses to “Sexual clippings”

  1. Siggy Says:

    At some point in the last few years, “ace” also acquired the connotation of being a slightly broader term than “asexual”. This has greatly increased its popularity because there was clearly a need for an umbrella term. (Disclosure: I run the Carnival of Aces)

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Can you say a bit about just what gets taken in by the newer usage that makes it broader?

      It’s very common for variants to be subtly differentiated, but it can be hard to pin down the details.

      • Siggy Says:

        Yes. Specifically, “ace” is supposed to include gray-As and demisexuals, which are groups identifying between asexual and non-asexual.

        I have specific memory of an event, at the pre-SF pride unconference (either 2011 or 2012), where David Jay, founder of one of the websites, stated to everyone that he privately thought of the word “ace” in this way. I think it slowly caught on from there. The Carnival of Aces predates this event, incidentally.

      • nextstepcake Says:

        It was at the original 2011 unconference that I first heard that use, although I believe a few people had been using it that way previously; but it was after the conference that the usage started becoming more widespread (largely, I suspect, because of conversations that were had at the conference and later shared by participants on blogs, forums, etc.)

        The intent behind it was to have it act as an umbrella for all terms on the asexual “spectrum”; somewhat like how the word “queer” is often used as an umbrella term to include all LGBT+ identities. (Interestingly, it actually functions probably close to how “gay” is often used as a catch-all to refer to not only gay people but also bisexuals and others, in phrases like “gay marriage” and “gay pride”, etc; Just as the LGBT+ spectrum is subsumed under the label of the its most well-known identity label – “gay” – so is the entire ace spectrum community often subsumed under “asexual”)

  2. Linkspam: December 14th, 2012 | The Asexual Agenda Says:

    […] Look, a linguist is talking about the word “ace”. […]

  3. nextstepcake Says:

    Reblogged this on Next Step: Cake and commented:
    An awesome little post about the linguistics of the word “ace” as short for asexual, for any fellow asexy linguistics fans!

  4. nextstepcake Says:

    This is a neat post! As a linguistics major and asexual (and someone fascinated with the intersections of the two), I love to see other people talking about this kind of thing. It’s absolutely fascinating!

    From what I’ve seen, in the early days of the ace community there was actually a lot more variation – “A” seems to be used quite a bit, and there was also some use of “ase” as an alternate spelling for “ace”. Over time, though, “ace” has pretty much supplanted all other variations – I see “A” only rarely (mostly among long-term community members) and “ase” seems to be pretty much entirely gone.

    Personally, I suspect that the reason Ace has won out over “A” is partly due to the confusion of the similarity to the indefinite article (“I’m a.” “a what?”); and also partly due to the wealth of references, injokes, and positive connotations that came with the use of “ace”.

  5. Sara Beth Brooks Says:

    I’ve been reading your things about GSM and LGBT linguistics for a while now, so I’m excited to see this about asexuality and ace. I first heard it on AVEN in 2010 and quickly adopted it. Your intuition is correct, it’s commonly understood among the community and sparked not just the ace of spades but also the ace of hearts (I’ve heard that spades is for aromantic people and hearts is for romantic people, though I’ve never seen that written online anywhere). Anyway, thanks again for writing such an interesting post. 🙂 — SB

  6. Will Says:

    Interesting. In a peculiar overlap, the ace of spades is also the emblem of Black-seeking females in the cuckolding lifestyle (very NSFW: link).

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The Ace of Spades is just a playing card and can be assigned meaning on the basis of its properties — a black card, a spade, an ace — and its role in various card games and any history it might have in a culture, so it can mean many different things in different contexts.

  7. Not X but Y? « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] I claimed) or neologism? And the second with expressions like bi, homo, and hetero: common nouns (as I claimed) or […]

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