KODIAK — As a faculty member with University of Alaska Anchorage, I and my colleagues are buzzing about the news from the University of Alaska. You see, this week, UA president Jim Johnsen sent a formal recommendation to the UA Board of Regents to close nearly all teacher education programs at UAA, a result of the School of Education losing accreditation. If the Board of Regents accepts President Johnsen’s recommendations, they will essentially close the School of Education at UAA, tasking UAF and UAS with the responsibility of educating new teachers in southcentral Alaska.

While UA will still be able to work towards its mission of growing Alaska teachers, and the closing of UAA’s School of Education might actually reap greater collaborations between the universities, still, no one likes to hear that word close.

The modern English spelling of close developed around the 13th century, and was influenced by both the Old French clos and the Old English beclysan. This linguistic ancestry makes it quite a unique word in the English language, but we know more about the French parentage than the Old English one.

The Old French clos derives from the Latin clausus, meaning to shut, block, confine, or put an end to. And the Proto-Indo-European root is klau, meaning hook, peg, or nail. The idea is that hooks, pegs, and nails were used on doors and other containers to keep them closed. So, to close a door, for instance, didn’t mean to pull the door to, it meant something more like the act of locking or fastening it shut.

But the way I’m using the verb close here, as bringing something to an end, wasn’t in use until about the 15th century. In the following century is when we see it being used more figuratively. For instance, the meaning of drawing near to is from the 1520s, bringing to together (as in closing a book) is from the 1560s, and the 1640s brought the phrase to close ranks.

The adjective close, which, today, means near, dates to the late 14th century. But back then, the term was used for a secret or something concealed.

There certainly is a big secret being kept about this test oil well, labeled KIC-1, in ANWR built back in 1986. The New York Times published an investigative story by Henry Fountain and Steve Eder this week that suggests that KIC-1 turned up no oil, so there’s may not be nearly as much oil in ANWR as we think.

And oil companies have been keeping this a close secret for thirty years, which is the real reason why there’s been no drilling there. (Sorry, environmentalists. Your efforts won’t go unnoticed.)

But the kicker is that the NYT story concludes with Governor Dunleavy’s firing of Hollis French, a Democrat, from the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The story posits that French was really fired for divulging to a journalist where KIC-1 data was kept, not for taking too many coffee breaks.

Coupled with the news that a federal judge this week blocked Trump’s reversal of a policy that protected certain Arctic waters from new drilling leases, it seems like oil in Alaska took a bit of a hit this week.

The verb block in English dates to the 1590s, from the French bloquer. The verb form was preceded by the noun bloc, in Old French, meaning a log, trunk, or other large piece of wood. It comes from the PIE bhelg, a thick plank or beam.

It wasn’t until the late 15th century when block took on a more general definition and a more specific one. In the general sense, block was beginning to refer to any solid piece of something, not just wood. In the specific sense, it referred to a solid piece of wood of which only the upper surface was used for a purpose. In fact, this latter meaning was influenced by what was called the executioner’s block. 

This past week, the Kodiak City Council put marijuana edibles on the executioner’s block. Even though edibles are found in dispensaries in Fairbanks and elsewhere, Kodiak is waiting.

At least, for now.

Edible was coined in English in the 1590s and seems to have come directly from the Latin edibilis, meaning eatable, derived from the PIE root ed, meaning to bite. Ed is found in a wide variety of words: alfalfa, eat, etch, and even obese. 

Some big bites were taken this week — UAA, oil, Kodiak cannabis, and budgets. Now we have to see what we can stomach.

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