“We two roam by the sea.” Or so I’ve attempted in Aleut.

My wife and I have taken to Alaska, the 49th state to join the Union but the 50th state my wife has visited. The dual tense verb alágukik may also mean “we two travel by baidarka,” with a baidarka the iconic Aleutian kayak. For our trip, we’ll just pretend baidarka is “cruise.”

The stem of this verb is alág, which, according to my research, is related to the Aleut word for “sea” and basis for the very name Alaska. According to the OEDAlaska is from the Aleut alaxsxix, “the object toward which the action of the sea is directed” – or “mainland.” There is evidence of Aljaska in the Russian of late 18th-century explorers there.

Alaska may be “the Last Frontier,” but its etymology is all about the sea.

The region is quite literally the last frontier of the Aleut language, with well under 500 speakers remaining. The US bought Alaska from Russia in 1867 – the “Alaska Purchase” – for $7.2 million, or 2 cents (2 cents!) an acre. Apparently, the storied Delmonico’s over on the other side of the US, New York City, baked some ice cream in a pastry and called it a “Baked Alaska” back in 1882 to commemorate of the event.

And I can think of no better way to commemorate our event – my wife’s birthday – than by serving up a little etymology. Happy birthday!

The Mashed Radish will be back in August.

m ∫ r ∫


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