We’ve certainly been a state of extremes this week.
Currently, southeast Alaska and our very own Kodiak Island are suffering through a drought, while many communities in the Interior are suffering from flooding and, particularly in Bethel, what is called an “atmospheric river.” Meanwhile, the governor announced extreme reversals of some of his extreme vetoes amid the popular effort to recall him.
When asked about the emotional and psychological impact that his original vetoes caused, the governor replied that he never intended to cause angst.
“Angst” is a relatively new word in the English language, when in 1944 it had ceased to be quoted as the foreign word it was in psychology. Psychologists, and even the English writer George Eliot had been using the word in psychological contexts since the 19th century, but it was Freud who popularized the word.
It comes from the German “angst,” meaning fear, anxiety or guilt. And it’s rooted in the Proto-Germanic “angustu,” from the Proto-Indo-European “anghosti,” which meant tight or painful. You can probably see its connection to words like “anger,” “anguish” and “anxious,” but it’s also at the root of the word “hangnail.” I know I get super-angsty when I get a hangnail.
Speakers of Old English used a form of angst, “angsumnes,” meaning anxiety, but it died out by the time Shakespeare started writing. And the PIE root, “angh,” is related to the Old English “enge,” meaning narrow or painful. So, at least in English, the word has been around in one form or another for centuries, but that certain combination of anger and anxiety embedded in the word angst has only been in English for less than a century.
The governor also claimed that his vetoes were a way to encourage dialogue in the state about our priorities.
“Dialogue,” at home in the English language since the 13th century, comes from the Latin “dialogus” and Greek “dialogos” meaning conversation between two or more people. It’s comprised of two word parts: the prefix “dia,” meaning across or between, and the base word “legein.”
Now, there is a common, though mistaken, belief that the word “dialogue” means a conversation between only two people, but that’s because there has been some confusion of the prefix “dia-” with the prefix “di-.” In fact, in 1532, the word “trialogue” was coined to indicate a conversation between three people. I’m not usually one to call out useless words, but “trialogue” is a fairly useless word. (So is the word “guesstimate.” An estimate is already a guess. Fight me.)
“Di-,” of course, means two, but that’s the incorrect prefix meaning in dialogue. Someone in 1864 introduced the word “duologue” to mean nothing other than a conversation between two people, and it’s not really in use much, but it still pops up from time to time. Nonetheless, it’s probably just needless as “trialogue.”
To be fair, the prefix “dia-” does have its roots in the PIE “dwo,” which means two or twice. But in the prefix mode in Greek, it takes on a slightly different purpose of intensifying the base word. So instead of meaning merely two sides, “dia-” means something more like thoroughly or entirely between different sides or directions.
The base word in “dialogue,” “legein,” is, naturally, related to the Latin “logos,” meaning word. The PIE root, “leg,” means to collect or gather, but the meaning in “dialogue” is to speak, as in gathering words to say. I’ve written about this root before, as it is a popular root in my career, found in words such as “analogy,” “delegate,” “college,” “lesson,” “lecture,” “legislator,” and so on.
The governor also used the word “conversation,” which is often used as a synonym for “dialogue.”
When the word “converse” originally entered the English language, back in the middle of the 14th century, it meant something completely different than it does today. It meant to move or live about, or to behave in a certain way — meanings that don’t exist anymore.
It came to English from the Old French “converser,” which at the time, meant to live or reside, from the Latin “conversari,” meaning to live with or keep company with.
The base word “versare,” from the PIE “wer,” means to turn. And the prefix “con-” doesn’t mean against (like “contrary”); it means with. So to converse with someone means to turn with them, to talk with them, to, in a sense, live with them in a conversation.
Many Alaskans feel they have lost that “with-ness” from their leaders. But maybe we’ve turned a corner.
Jared Griffin is associate professor of English at Kodiak College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.