“Access” just might be the word of the week. As I’m writing, the news feeds are swarming with reports that major donors to the Clinton Foundation sought inordinate access to Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state. Granted, there’s no evidence that this access resulted in any favors from the State Department, but many are concerned that these requests made it as far as Clinton’s deputy chief of staff.
And in this day and age, sometimes merely the appearance of impropriety is enough to set off a political firestorm.
Donald Trump, for instance, explicitly declared at a campaign rally that he often gave money to politicians (mostly Democrats) in exchange for access later. I don’t think any evidence has been published that shows Trump receiving political favors in exchange for campaign donations, but the appearance is there, too.
“Access” entered the English lexicon early in the 14th century, and at that time it meant “an attack of fever.” “Access” was a layman’s medical term for someone’s temperature rising.
Imagine Elvis singing “Burning Love” in the 14th century: “Lord Almighty, I feel access/Higher and higher, it’s burning through to my soul.” Doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?
“Access” comes from the Old French “acces,” meaning “onslaught” or “attack,” as in the onset of an illness.
Being French, its roots are found in the Latin “accessus,” which more broadly means “an approach.”
Today, when we say that we are “coming down” with something, like a cold or the flu, that it is a direct descendent of this use of “access.”
Later in the 14th century, the word shifted meaning to the “power of getting into the presence of someone.” It’s almost as if trying to get “access” to someone is the cause of fevers and headaches.
Hunka hunka burnin’ quid pro quo, right?
There’s no doubt that all of these requests for access are causing some blood boiling in both presidential candidates. Clinton’s Foundation and emails. Trump’s aides’ and advisers’ access to Putin and other undesirables.
We broadened the word even further around 1600 to mean any kind of entrance.
Further, “access” is a participle form of the Latin “accedere,” from which we get the word “accede.”
The prefix is actually “ad,” meaning “to.” In Latin, whenever Romans had a word with the “ad” prefix before a “k” sound, they normally dropped the “d” and added in an extra “c,” probably for ease of pronunciation.
And the base word is “cedere,” meaning “go” or “move.” We get our word “cede” from this root.
We typically define “cede” today as “yielding” or “giving up a right or property” to make way for something or someone else.
The original Latin denotation of “cede” is “to go from,” “proceed” or even “leave.”
“Cede” was likely developed from the Proto-Italic “kesd-o,” meaning “to go away” or “avoid.” The Proto-Indo-European root is “sed,” also “to go” or “yield.”
The sense is in “going away” or “withdrawing.”
While the email and financial access scandals of our presidential candidates will not be going away any time soon, one group who will not be ceding are Alaskan seniors.
We celebrated National Senior Citizens Day this week, a day honoring 16 percent of our state’s population (and, to be honest, both our major presidential candidates). And here in Kodiak, we try our best to provide access to services for our seniors through programs at the Senior Center of Kodiak and other nonprofit organizations.
Oddly enough, the phrase “senior citizen” originated during a political campaign in 1938. If you’d like to know more about the title “senior citizen,” I recommend Howard Richler’s article in a recent edition of The Senior Times (www.theseniortimes.com/richler.htm). There’s a rich word history there that won’t fit into this column.
The word “senior” itself, though, before 1938, referred either to a person of authority (around the mid-14th century), or to a person older than someone else. It derives from the Latin “senex” and PIE “sen,” both meaning “old.” And its original use in English was as an addition to a man’s name when his son has the same name.
Our word “senile,” meaning “suited to old age” from the French, comes from the same root.
“Senile” is used derogatorily today, but its etymology suggests that a senior has the grit to live another year (consider the Old Norse “sina” for “dry standing grass from the previous year”). In other words, it is our seniors who have access to wisdom, perseverance and grit.
That’s the kind of access I would pay for.
Jared Griffin is assistant director for academic affairs at Kodiak College. Contact him at email@example.com.