A parallel etymology to stale (“a handle, shaft, stem"), distinguished via ablaut.
(plural steles or stelai)
- (archaeology) An upright (formerly upright) slab containing engraved or painted decorations or inscriptions; a stela
- (archaeology, uncommon) Any carved or engraved surface
Although stela and stele were used in antiquity for pillars and columns generally and continued to carry that meaning when their use was revived in English archaeology and architecture in the 18th and 19th century, respectively, present usage usually distinguishes obelisks, columns, shafts (the body of a column between the capital and the pediment), etc., and uses stela and stele to refer to engraved slabs or small pillars.
Furthermore, although the terms still refer to small pillarlike gravestones from antiquity, the similar-looking herms are now often distinguished, as are modern gravestones, monuments, boundary markers, etc.
The terms do sometimes refer to undecorated rocks when they have been raised by artificial means in prehistoric times, particularly when they are slab-like, but the large Neolithic menhirs are usually distinguished as are Chinese scholar's or Taihu rocks and other modern uses of upright stones as decoration or signage.
Stele is frequently pluralized irregularly as stelae and stelÃ¦, but this is a hypercorrection arising from confusion with the Latin-derived stela. The anglicized Greek plural stelai has been used since the late 19th century but is less common than steles.
From Ancient Greek ÏƒÏ„Î®Î»Î· (stÄ“lÄ“, “upright rock; pillar; column"), plural form ÏƒÏ„á¿†Î»Î±Î¹ (stÄ“lai).
From 1886 French stÃ¨le, from Ancient Greek ÏƒÏ„Î®Î»Î· (stÄ“lÄ“, “upright rock; pillar; column").