That little sheath—it’s usually plastic or metal—at the end of your shoelace? That’s an aglet. In the realm of oft-overlooked items that improve our day-to-day lives, it may well be king. After all, most folks have never even heard the word, though they deal with the item itself regularly. And have you ever tried to lace up a pair of shoes without one? Not recommended.
Etymologically speaking, the word is derived from the Old French “aguillette,” a diminutive of the word “aguille,” or “needle.” When you think about it, this derivation makes sense. The sheath serves as a sort of small needle that allows you to thread your shoelace through the eyelets of your shoe. But the aglet has to serve a purpose, otherwise it’s more properly known as an aguillette (yes, just like the Old French word). If you’re looking for an example of the latter, ornamental version, just check out the ends of the bolo tie on the next oil tycoon you encounter.
Though the most common example of the functional aglet in modern society is the shoelace, you can also find them at the ends of drawstrings. Back in the day, before the advent of buttons, they featured on ribbons and cords used to fasten clothing together, and were sometimes formed into small figures dubbed “aglet babies” in The Taming of the Shrew.
From shoelaces to Shakespeare in a single blog post—that’s the power of the aglet.