A small protective plastic or metal sleeve that is fastened, crimped, or wrapped around the end of a lace, e.g. a shoelace, or a cord
Have you ever thought much about the importance of endings? Take a book, for example. Many of us would agree that the value of a novel is within the pages of the covers. However, without the finishing touches of the binding and the covers, all of the papers on which the story was told would fall apart, or, worse yet, get out of order! Oftentimes, we disregard the final details of things because they seem inconsequential as compared to the whole of the object. This tendency is even truer for those endings that are physically very small, like the underappreciated aglet. Most of us tie our shoes without a second thought, and we hardly even give a first thought to the hard little plastic ends of our shoelaces. But if these ends weren’t there, this routine action would be a tad more time consuming (and annoying!). Yes, if aglets were to spontaneously disappear, it’s a safe bet that there wouldn’t be very many lace-up shoes left to tie.
The word aglet refers to the little plastic or metal casing that is placed around the end of a shoelace, or any type of cord, to keep it from unraveling. These firm sheathes can come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, but they are most often made out of clear plastic and wrapped around or slid over the edge of the lace, allowing the aglet to blend with the fabric. While these covers are most often seen on the laces of your shoes for obvious reasons, they are almost anywhere that a string could use a knot or seal, but the designer opted for something more elegant. The drawstrings used to tighten the neck and hood of sweatshirts are usually tipped off with these little buggers. And if you’re planning on making your very own tree swing, you’ll find that the very ends of the rope you’ll buy have been cut and glued, forming a nice clumpy makeshift aglet!
The purpose of these tubes is, first and foremost, to keep the lace or cord from coming undone or frayed from use; however, they are also used to structure and shape the ends so they can more easily be laced through a garment’s hooks or eyelets, the reinforced holes through which a lace is strung and tightened. Similar to how a seamstress might wet her thread in order to pull it through the eye of a needle, someone thought it would be a great idea to alter the ends of laces, so they might too be threaded!
Example: The most disappointing part of his day was finding out that one of his aglets had come off his shoelace.
Example: Tony wanted to add some pizzazz to his Nike’s, so he painted the aglets bright pink.
The example of threading a needle as an analogy for the function of an aglet, especially to aid in lacing strings or cords through eyelets, interestingly enough, also speaks to the word’s origin! Aglet comes from the Old French word aguillette, which looks much like the decorative aiguillette (See Similar Words). The word from which aguillette is based is aguille, which comes from the Latin acus meaning “needle.” Considering its origin, it only makes sense that aglets are used to help narrow and shape the end of a lace so it can be threaded through a hole or hook. Later on, this word was used to denote more ornate or embellished materials (such as a ribbon) that were placed on or wrapped around a point or edge, chiefly in regard to clothing. The word aglet has been with us since the mid-15th century, and even if it isn’t a part of our daily vocabulary it’s an integral part of our podiatric lives!
Although our spelling for aglet is the most common, it can also be spelled aiglet (plural: aiglets), which is a bit more reminiscent of its origin. Sometimes, the latter spelling is used to denote a more ornamental covering to the tip of a lace.
The difference between an aglet and its decorative counterpart, an aiguillette (plural: aiguillettes), is simply the function. Whereas the aglet on the end of a shoelace is meant to clamp the threads and aid in lacing, an aiguillette at the end of dress cords (e.g. on military uniforms) is for decoration only. Sometimes these “dressed up“ aglets are stamped or etched with beautiful designs, made to look like golden cones or jewels at the end of an expensive looking cord. In less formal attire, these aiguillettes are also found on accessories such as bolo ties. Even though the word looks French, it is certainly recognized as an English word!
From Christopher C. Doyle’s The Mahabharata Quest: The Alexander Secret:
"This is a telomere. It is like the aglet at the end of a shoelace, protecting it from fraying. Every time a chromosome is copied, a little bit of the telomere gets left out. You can see how, after lots of copying, the telomere gets so short that any further replication will start leaving out meaningful genes. That is when a cell stops dividing.”
Here, a telomere, which is a string of repetitive information found at the end of every DNA sequence, is being compared to an aglet because their functions are very similar despite the differences in complexity. Both telomeres and the little plastic tubes at the end of our shoelaces keep their respective contents from coming apart or undone. Unlike DNA, however, when we “run out” of protective material on our laces, we usually just buy brand new ones.
After describing his “evil plan” to Perry the Platypus…
DOOFENSHMIRTZ: “You understand right?” *trips and falls onto the ground*
DOOFENSHMIRTZ: “Oh, well that kind of killed the moment didn’t it? My shoes… my shoelaces are frayed! I’m going to have to replace the aglet. I always keep extras on hand, just a few…
Cartoons fans can probably remember the A-G-L-E-T theme song that brothers Phineas and Ferb sang to teach the audience the importance of the ends of their shoelaces. While this song and dance number is taking place, the evil Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz unveils a device that will make everyone forget anything he thinks about. Unfortunately, he begins talking about the aglets, or plastic tubing at the end of his shoelaces, when the machine is turned on, so the word is erased from all of the characters’ memories. Hopefully this anecdote will keep it from escaping yours!
Don’t sweat frayed edges if you’ve got an aglet!
Shoes get upset when they lose their aglets.
Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of aglet. Did you use aglet in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.