Yesterday I looked into the word impavid, that I was led to by the Latin original of one of the two quotations in the About section of the blog “frame of nature.” Today I’d like to look into a word in the other quotation there, taken from “A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law,” which John Adams wrote in 1765: “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge…. Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write…. Let every sluice of knowledge be opened and set a-flowing.”
The 1913 Webster’s Dictionary explains that a sluice is: ‘1. An artificial passage for water, fitted with a valve or gate, as in a mill stream, for stopping or regulating the flow; also, a water gate of flood gate. 2. Hence, an opening or channel through which anything flows; a source of supply…. 3. The stream flowing through a flood gate. 4. (Mining) A long box or trough through which water flows, — used for washing auriferous earth. Sluice gate, the sliding gate of a sluice.’ From sluice the noun English has created sluice the verb. For example, Jack London wrote in The Valley of the Moon: “Fascinated by the five-inch stream, sluiced out of the earth and back to the earth by the droning motor, he forgot his discourse and stood and gazed, rapt and unheeding, while his visitors drove on.”
English acquired sluice from the Old French escluse that had developed from Late Latin exclusa ‘closed out, excluded. That Latin adjective appeared in feminine form because it modified the understood noun aqua, which was the ‘water’ that the sluice controlled. Late Latin exclusa has become Spanish esclusa, which has the same meaning as the first definition that Webster’s gave for the English cognate sluice.
Although the x has disappeared from esclusa/sluice, it’s still present in exclusivo/exclusive, which describes something that is of high quality because elements of lesser quality have been excluidos/excluded ‘closed out, kept out.’
© 2011 Steven Schwartzman