Despite many of us hating to use the word "help," avoiding it at all costs, it’s one of the oldest words in the English language that has maintained its original meaning for over a thousand years.

Maybe that’s why its meaning hasn’t changed: we don’t use it nearly as much as we should.

Sometimes it’s only a modest ask for help with the dishes (I sure hope my kids read this column); and for extreme calls for help, we take an idea out of the Gilligan’s Island playbook and, using rocks or wood, and spell the word “HELP” on the beach, hoping an airplane flying by notices it.

Such was the case this week when two ATV drivers in Saltery Cove caught the eye of a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk crew, dispatched to look for the lost drivers who spelled out “HELP” using nearby driftwood.

Help is from the Old English “helpan,” which is derived from the Proto-Germanic “helpanan.” But that’s about as far as we can trace the word. Its origins are unknown.

For centuries, it was just your run of the mill, average verb. But in the late 14th century, we have a record of someone yelling “Help!” as an imperative cry of distress. 

A couple centuries later, English writers started translating the French verb “servir,” which also means to help or avail, as help in the sense of serving someone with food at the table. Hence, we now have helpings of food, as well as servings, when we eat.

Then, in 1894, we see the phrase “help yourself” as an invitation to grab some food or take something that’s being given away.

In Juneau this week, you can probably help yourself to some moose poop since there’s a guy near the capital handing out moose poop to protest Dunleavy’s budget.

How do we know this? Well, he was flagged by TSA when he was boarding his flight to Juneau. TSA noticed that he had a large collection of organic material in his carry-on (yes, his carry-on bag — he was bringing this on the plane!), inside of which was a big ol’ bag of moose nuggets.

The word poop has several meanings, and they all come from different sources.  For instance, the oldest use of the word “poop” is its maritime usage: the stern deck of ship. This meaning dates to the 15th century, when the English borrowed it from the Middle French “poupe,” which is rooted in the Latin “puppies,” meaning stern. There is no known origin of the word beyond the Latin.

In 1941, the U.S. Army begins to use the term “poop sheet,” to mean up-to-date information. No one is sure where this originated, but the idea is that this is a report one would read on the toilet in the morning. 

But how this Juneau traveler is visually using the word, as excrement, dates to only 1744, when it was probably a children’s euphemism. Some linguists think that it was originally onomatopoeia, that is, kids were imitating the sound of, well, pooping. At the time, poop could mean a short blast on a horn (from the 14th century) and, less regally, it could mean a quiet fart. Not just any fart; a quiet one. So the euphemistic jump was a small one by the 18th century.

For those of us who grew up in Alaska, we know that moose poop is not really poop but nuggets.

Surprisingly, the word “nugget” is a new word to the English language, dating from 1852 in the mines of southwestern England. There, they used the word “nug,” meaning lump, also of which we don’t know its origins. 

In 1931, we see the first use of “poop” as becoming tired, but we’re not sure why that became a word.

I’m looking forward to being pooped after the Hot Sardines, a Parisian jazz ensemble, visit Kodiak and Fairbanks this weekend. We love our hot jazz here, so I’m looking forward to a rollicking concert.

The word “sardine” has a very simple origin story. Sardines are simply the small fish caught around the large island of Sardinia, located just west of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea. Some historians think the name comes from a great woman in Greek mythology named Sardo; others think it comes from Sardus Pater, another mythological hero and son of Hercules, who settled the island. 

What a great namesake for a band; they might be packed like sardines on stage, but their sound is much, much grander.

Jared Griffin is associate professor of English at Kodiak College. Contact him at