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Alaskan Range: From Corduroy To Whales

...Corduroy's categorized by the number of cords, or "wales," per inch, ranging from 1.5 to 21. The lower numbers indicate ruggedness and warmth, but I'm doubtful that even the chilliest Alaskan could abide pants with one-and-a-half wales per inch. "Wale" descends from the Old English term "walu" and meant "ridge." That got me reflecting on another whale's anniversary...

Columnist Greg Hill goes on another splendidly entertaining literary journey.

There were few moments for visiting with my co-workers at the Fairbanks Library Foundation's booth at the Carlson Center's recent Holiday Bazaar, but during a lull, one board member mentioned a radio report about the "Grand Meeting of The Corduroy Appreciation Club on the Date Which Most Closely Resembles Corduroy, 11/11." Headquartered in NY City, the CAC "is inspired by old clubs and secretive societies" and "has annual meetings, strange rituals, disguises, badges, awards, sneaky handshakes, and a membership card fittingly backed with corduroy," according to CorduroyClub.com. Too bad they got their etymology wrong.

The CAC claims to "honor corde du roi, the 'fabric of kings'," but "corduroy" doesn't mean that to the Oxford English Dictionary or Etymology Online, who say "corde du roi" is a fabrication and "velours a cotes" is the French expression for corduroy. Wikipedia notes that corduroy is "composed of twisted fibers that, when woven, lie parallel to one another to form the cloth's distinct pattern, a 'cord'." It adds that "the word, like the cloth, is of English origin, probably from 'cord' plus the obsolete 'duroy,' a course woolen fabric.'

Corduroy's categorized by the number of cords, or "wales," per inch, ranging from 1.5 to 21. The lower numbers indicate ruggedness and warmth, but I'm doubtful that even the chilliest Alaskan could abide pants with one-and-a-half wales per inch. "Wale" descends from the Old English term "walu" and meant "ridge." That got me reflecting on another whale's anniversary.

Herman Melville's Moby Dick was originally published on November 14, 1851 in London, where it was titled The Whale. "Whale" comes from the Old English word "hwael," but the English hated Melville's novel after his English publisher misprinted the ending, leaving it misarranged and incomplete. The book was already a radical departure in narrative storytelling, and, combined with the publishing fiasco, it was panned mercilessly as "so much trash belonging to the worst school of Bedlam literature." American reviewers nearly all followed the British example, even though the novel, published as Moby-Dick or The Whale here, was printed correctly. Typically brutal was this 1852 from the United States Democratic Review, "Mr. Melville is evidently trying to ascertain how far the public will consent to be imposed upon. He is gauging, at once, our gullibility and our patience."

For his plot Melville drew upon several real-life stories of whales attacking ships, particularly one "Mocha Dick." According to Wikipedia, "Mocha Dick was a notorious male Sperm Whale that lived in the Pacific Ocean in the early 19th century, usually encountered in the waters near the island of Mocha, off southern Chile." Though white, not coffee-colored, Mocha Dick "survived many skirmishes (by some accounts at least 100) with whalers before he was eventually killed. He was large and powerful, capable of wrecking small craft with his flukes."

Moby Dick fell into literary backwaters until the 1920s. In 1926 Rockwell Kent was approached by a publisher to illustrate Richard Henry Dana's Two Years Before the Mast. Kent wasn't interested but did want to create drawings of "a previously obscure book, Moby-Dick." Published in 1930 by Chicago's Lakeside Press, the three-volume, aluminum-encased set sold out immediately and was re-issued by Random House in trade form. You can buy one of the, Lakeside originals on Amazon today for $10,004.

Walter Walden, the father of Fairbanks Library Foundation board member Barbara Gorman, was a master printer in Chicago in the Twenties and loved well-made books. He amassed an enormous personal library, 70,000 volumes of which Barbara and her husband Dan donated to our Library Foundation. Some are in the library's antiquarian collection, but most were sold. The proceeds enhance our public library's services, like buying artwork and furniture for the Noel Wien and North Pole libraries.

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