The special session of the Alaska legislature drags on: no operating budget, no capital budget and pink slips being handed out. If a budget isn’t approved soon, Alaskans who rely on state payments to health care providers could be left in a lurch.

Oh, and of course, this week they also failed to pass legislation about the PFD.

“Fail” came to English first as a verb around the year 1200, from the Old French “falir,” which could mean anything from making a mistake to dying. So, I guess someone who died technically failed at living, according to this pre-modern definition. But it could also mean disappoint, though I wouldn’t necessarily say we are disappointed when someone dies. I guess it depends. But many Alaskans are certainly expressing disappointment at this long legislative session.

The Latin root of “fail” is “fallere,” which literally means to trip or cause to fall. Figuratively, the ancient Romans used the word to mean deceive, cheat or defective.

“Fail” replaced the Old English word “abreodan,” which generally meant to be unsuccessful or to cease to exist. This is quite a broad word. It could mean anything from tripping over an exposed root to falling off a cliff to an imminent demise.

For example, this tanker truck crash on the Dalton Highway on Tuesday could certainly be considered a failure. It spilled 9,500 gallons of diesel fuel all over the ground, though authorities were able to recover all but 2,000 gallons. Unfortunately, the driver of the truck lost his life.

Now, I don’t know how exactly diesel fuel functions differently from other fuels. But I do know that it was a fuel specifically created for diesel engines by their German inventor, Rudolf Diesel, in 1892.

Regardless, that sounds like a lot of fuel seeping into the ground.

“Fuel” comes from the Old French, “foaille,” which dates its entry to English around 1200, and could mean any kind of material used for heating. It comes from the Latin “focalia,” a word used specifically for brushwood used for firemaking. And there’s an older Latin form, “focalis,” which meant hearth.

We’ve been measuring liquids in gallons since at least the late 13th century. “Gallon” is the English spelling of the Old French “jalon,” which is probably related to the word “jale,” meaning bowl. Medieval Latin included a word, “galleta,” meaning bucket and was also the word they used to measure wine.

Why couldn’t it have been 2,000 gallons of wine? Free wine!

And my daughter tells me that the modern Spanish word “galleta” means cookie.

Why couldn’t it have been 2,000 cookies? Free cookies!

But the Spanish “galleta,” though spelled the same as the Latin “galleta,” is of a different history. It actually comes from the French “galette,” which could mean dough or bread. Around Christmas time, you may have had a pastry called king cake, which might include a small prize baked into it; “king cake” is the English translation of the French “galette des rois.”

Beyond the medieval Latin, however, we’re not too sure where the word “gallon” originates. Perhaps it comes from a word in the Gaul dictionary, “galla,” which meant vessel, which makes a whole lot more sense than cookie.

But that’s not the only problem on an Alaskan road. A landslide in the Denali National Park and Reserve is pushing a popular road down the side of a mountain, and a rockslide is creating a dangerous situation along the Copper River.

“Landslide” was coined in 1851 by Americans who weren’t too keen on the more British-sounding “landslip,” which had been in use since the 1670s. “Landslide,” though, still doesn’t sound as cool was the word used in Old English, “eordgebyrst,” which literally means earth-burst.

The verb “slide” has been around for quite a while. The Old English “slidan” comes from the Proto-Indo-European roots “sleidh,” and is one of those words that hasn’t changed its core meaning in thousands of years.

It didn’t turn into a noun until the 1560s, though, when it was first used to label a smooth inclined surface, and the first playground slide didn’t appear until 1890, right around the time that “landslide” was first used to describe a lopsided election and the baseball maneuver.

To “let something slide” was an idiom developed in the late 14th century. It was first used by Chaucer in that sense, but it was, naturally, Shakespeare who popularized it. The character Christopher in “Taming of the Shrew” shouts, “Let the world slide!”

But we can only let things slide so far before they completely fail.

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