What's in a Word | All Blogs

Arising from the ashes

By Debra Dobbins

It took a little while to deciper “alkali” out of this Jumble word today. Words with two or more of the same vowels often trip me up.

We have the Arabs to thank for the word, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. It came into English in the late 14th century, the dictionary notes, and meant soda ash. According to the same source, the word goes back to Medieval Latin alkali, which derived from the “Arabic al-qaliy ‘the ashes, burnt ashes’ (of saltwort, a plant growing in alkaline soils) … The modern chemistry sense is from 1813.”

Now to Penny Stine. For many reasons I’m fortunate to have her as an officemate. For instance, she often brings delectable baked goods such as the Craisin, cinnamon, oatmeal, dark-chocolate, pumpkin cake she tempted us with today. As the summer progresses, she’ll bring in flowers and vegetables from her ever-expanding garden. (The pumpkin she used in today’s cake came from last year’s bounty.)

Penny also constantly experiments with different types of salsa. We here are happy to be her guinea pigs for any and all concoctions.

Having recently become a master gardener, Penny was the perfect person to ask today what the word “alkali” means to her.

“Poor soil,” she said and then explained that the nature of our alkaline soil here precludes us from successfully growing acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas and blueberries. With some amending, though, Grand Valley’s soil is still fine for a wide variety of other vegetation. Anyone wanting proof need look no farther than Penny’s prodigious garden.

Penny Stine displays the only shred left of her cake.
Photo by Debra Dobbins



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