Within the world of aristocrats and nobility, there are a number of unusual or confusing terms and phrases.
For those lucky enough to have been born into the realm of the aristocracy, or those who have studied this captivating social stratum, these words and terms may be a normal and everyday part of their vocabulary.
But for the wider world, i.e. the vast majority of people who were not born in the nobility or in line to noble titles, some of these esoteric words may be less familiar.
One such word that is sometimes a source of confusion is the term aristos.
What Does Aristos Mean?
There are two different meanings of aristos.
One meaning, which is likely the most commonly used reference, is the plural of aristo. The second meaning is related to the etymology or word origin of the prefix aristo-, as in the term aristocracy.
A Modern Definition Of Aristos
When the word aristos is used in the modern world, for example in the media, contemporary literature or spoken aloud, the most common definition is the plural of aristo.
And what is an aristo?
It’s a shorthand, colloquial term used to describe a member of the aristocracy, i.e. the aristocratic class or social order that has historically occupied a place between royalty and the landed gentry in the conventional social hierarchies.
So a person may be referred to as an aristo if they have a noble title, such as any of the following;
• Dukes and Duchesses
• Count and Countess
• Viscount and Viscountess
• Baron and Baroness
• Lord and Lady
So if you’ve overheard someone mention a group of aristos, it’s likely that they were referring to members of the aristocracy.
However, this term has come to be used much more broadly over the years, so much so that now people may refer to certain people as ‘aristos’ even if they don’t possess a genuine noble title, but rather they live the high life or have plenty of money – two traits often associated with the aristocracy over the centuries.
The Etymology Of Aristos
There is another usage of the term aristos and that’s the original Greek word aristos which in its simplest or earliest form was meant to mean ‘best fitting’, as in the superlative form of the root word ar, which means to fit together.
This term is primarily used in modern languages as a prefix for a number of terms, such as aristocrat and aristocracy. The reason these terms evolved from this suffix is that in its earliest form, the social groups that would become the aristocracy were deemed to be the ‘most fitting’ of characters for esteemed roles within royal courts or the military.
For example, the aristocratic titles of Baron, Lord, Count, Viscount and Duke all evolved from highly respected roles of responsibility within governance or warfare. As such, only the ‘most fitting’ or best-suited individuals would be chosen for such roles.
This is why, over time, the term aristocrat came to represent a certain air of nobility, virtue, honour, duty and a sense of being more notable than the masses.
As the aristocracy evolved over the centuries, these virtues and esteemed characteristics that defined the earliest noble classes became less of a common criterion. Instead, the aristocracy came to be defined more by their titles, heritage, land and estates, as well as by their wealth, lifestyle, political power and position within society.
In today’s world, many aristocrats still adhere to the old values of noblesse oblige and hold dear their ancestors’ honorable commitments to duty and service.
Yet the origin of the term aristocracy – the prefix aristos – is no longer a literal reference to the nature and character of the members of this esteemed social group.
As with many old words, the meaning has evolved over many centuries, and the modern term merely suggests the age-old characteristics of the origin of the aristocracy, rather than the contemporary definition or criteria for membership.
Other ‘Aristo’ Words
While the majority of words beginning with the prefix aristo- are related to either the ancient or modern references to aristocrats and aristocracies, there are a couple of exceptions, such as aristology and Aristotelian.
What Does Aristology Mean?
The little-known word aristology means the ‘science of dining’. Although this may seem to be related to the word aristocrat, and it could be argued that many aristocrats would be masters of the science of fine dining, in this case, the word stems from the Greek word ariston, an evolved version of the terms for breakfast and the verb to eat.
What Does Aristotelian Mean?
Aristotelian relates not to the aristocracy as might be expected but rather to the Ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who was one of the most famous great minds from the earliest days of human civilization.
The word Aristotelian suggests a relationship to the teachings of Aristotle.
While Aristotelian may not relate to the aristocracy directly, the origin of the name Aristotle stems from a similar meaning in that it originated from the Greek phrase aristos totalis, which translates roughly as the best of all – again reflecting the root word aristos, as in most fitting.
Aristos – A Modern Name
Given the esteemed nature of the aristocracy and the history of excellence inherent in the prefix aristos-, it’s perhaps not surprising that the name Aristos has become a popular choice for modern baby names.
It’s primarily a name for boys and is indicative of a Greek origin, but it’s come to be regarded as a name that means ‘the best’, which may explain why modern parents are opting to choose this name for the offspring, no doubt hoping such an ambitious moniker will influence or inspire them to become the best of their peers, or at least, to make the best of themselves.
Aristos has a number of meanings in the modern world, some relate to the realm of aristocracy directly, and others have more subtle connections in the history of their etymology.
It seems however that there is one common thread through all these words, terms and phrases and that is the idea of excellence and above-average standing – something the majority of the aristocrats of the ages would recognize as an important virtue and a worthy aim.