The judiciary’s on the move as executive branches in Alaska and in Washington D.C. go toe-to-toe with citizen groups over various lawsuits, making headlines this week.
The most prominent case is the Alaska Division of Elections’ rejection of the Recall Dunleavy petition application. The Division’s director, Gail Fenumiai, followed the recommendation of Attorney General Kevin Clarkson’s legal opinion that there were several legal and factual shortcomings in the application and ought to be rejected.
The word “reject” was not rejected by the English language in the early 15th century when it made its way into their dictionaries from the Old French. The Old French “rejecter” comes directly from the Latin “reiectus,” which could mean to throw away or even vomit.
The prefix “re-,” of course, means back, and the base word “icere” means to throw. So to “reject” something literally means to throw it back. At the core of “icere” is the Proto-Indo-European root “ye,” meaning to throw or impel, and many English words with that “je” combination originate in that root: “adjective,” “interject,” “jettison” and “project.”
It wasn’t too long after the verb entered English that they turned it into a noun. By the 1550s, a “reject” was a castaway, and military use in 1925 defined a low-quality or worthless soldier as a reject.
So the petition was thrown back to the Recall Dunleavy group. In turn, disagreeing with AG Clarkson’s interpretation of recall statutes, they decided to throw it somewhere else, this time filing a complaint in Anchorage Superior Court.
“Complain” adopted its noun form, “complaint,” in the late 14th century English and had a wide variety of meanings around its common theme of lamentation. It could refer to an emotional expression of grief, sorrow or anguish; an informal expression of disapproval; a depressing poem; or, in Recall Dunleavy’s case, a formal statement of grievances and accusations.
The original Latin is “complangere,” which literally means to beat the breast. The base word, “plangere,” means beat the breast, and the prefix “com-” acts as an intensifier: to “complain” means to really beat your breast.
A relatively new complaint in the English language has exploded in popularity this week: “OK, boomer.”
The meteoric rise of the phrase “OK, boomer” comes as the battle of generations between Baby Boomers and, generally speaking, their grandchildren, Millennials continues to elevate feverishly. Boomers complain that Millennials aren’t working hard enough and destroying the things they love; Millennials complain that the economy that the Boomers have left them with sucks.
So this phrase has become a sort of punctuated response by Millenials when Boomers complain about the world too much.
Meanwhile, I’m Gen-X, so I’m mostly nihilistic about it all, anyway.
Baby Boomer, the name for the generation of children born in the couple of decades after World War II, was first used in 1963 in a newspaper article referring to the large increase of college students that year. (Note: 1963 is 18 years after the end of V-Day, so that makes sense.) The term has shrunk to just Boomer over the past few years, as we see in the derisive “OK, Boomer.”
The “boom” in “baby boom” likely comes from an 1873 meaning that referred to a sudden increase, or burst, in activity.
In the nautical sense, dating to the 1640s, a “boom” was the long pole that extends the length of the foot of a sail. So when a big gust of wind suddenly fills the sail, the ship would have been said to be “booming.” This could certainly be connected to the “baby boom” meaning, too, as we see similar connotations in phrases like “boom town” (from 1883) and the cycle of boom and bust (since 1937).
While the nautical “boom” comes from a Dutch word related to the German “baum” and the English “beam,” the other “boom,” the loud and deep sound we may find analogous to a sudden burst as in “boom box” (from 1978), is of Old English roots: “bomben.” But even then, the Aboriginal word for waves crashing onto a beach is “boondi,” so the word-sound might have a more widespread relationship.
But, really, I try not to emphasize these mostly arbitrary generational labels. A writer I admire, David Dark, once said, “When I label someone, I no longer have to deal with them thoughtfully. I don’t have to feel overwhelmed by the fact of their complexity, the lives they live, the dreams they have. There’s hardly any action quite so easy, so utterly unimaginative, as the affixing of a label.”
Jared Griffin is associate professor of English at Kodiak College. Contact him at email@example.com.