What is the Key?

What is the “Key”?

Pentecost 49


It is a word used almost every day by thousands of people and yet, it several meanings are as diverse as those who say the word.  What do we really mean when we use the word “key” and just how can we make it extraordinary in its every day, ordinary usage?


The word “key” not only has multiple meanings, most very different from one another but even its etymology is diverse and somewhat unknown.  Just as many refugees have become orphans from their homeland, the word “key” has become something of a nomadic term and yet it not only exists, it is as mentioned before commonly used but people of all cultures and socioeconomic levels.


If you believe the word is of Greek origin, then it comes to us from the Greek κλαί or clais or clidaria which translates as “lock”.  One might be forgiven if one assumed this to be the only history of the word since most of us think of a tool inserted into locks to open them as being a “key”.   Just as the hundreds of thousands of refugees in the world are diverse, so are the meanings of the word “key”.  Before its use by the Greeks and others in describing a tool by which one could open a lock, the Latin language of the Roman Empire had a word that translates as key and that word was “clavis” which later became the French “clef”, both of which were defined as a tone or … key.  That is not the only meaning of the word, however.


The history of the word “key” can also be traced to the Middle English “keie”, from Old English “cæg” which meant a metal piece that worked a lock, which might have come from the Old Frisian word “kei”.  Frisians were an ethnic group native to the Netherlands and Germany so the word “key” might also be related to the German word “keie” which is defined as “tool”.  Following the history of man in these regions, the word’s derivation makes sense until we look at the Sanskrit word “kuncika” which is also defined as “key” and means to make crooked.


Then there is the Spanish word “cayo” which translates as “shoal or reef”.  It supposedly is derived from the English word “key” meaning “wharf” which was used in the early fourteenth century.  The English word supposedly was derived from the French “kai” which meant a sand bank or quay.  Thus, we have many meanings for a commonly used word and yet, with all its different meanings, it is not a word frequently misunderstood.  Somehow in the midst of all the multiplicity, we are able to discern the meaning we need to assign to it at the time we use it.  We see past its diversity to the heart of the matter.


How much more productive would our world be if we could do that with our living?  If we could not focus on the diversity or difference and just get to the core points, the “key” factors you might say, then we could perhaps cure some of the most devastating illnesses or find better ways to utilize our resources and feed everyone, eliminating hunger and the resulting diseases and ills that accompany it.  If we realized that, like the word key, we too have many different beginnings but can work together and effectively, we could eliminate bullying, hatred, and the killings that accompany such.


This is actually part one of a two-part blog post.  The second discusses another use of the word “key”, that of being an avenue of change.  Let’s just focus on the word for now.  This simple word is complex in its history and multiple meanings and yet it confuses no one.  From Europe to Asia to even the Americas, it has humble beginnings that are now used by everyone without dissension.  Perhaps the tool for world peace is the simplicity of the word “key” which, really is a bit complex and yet also quite straightforward.   The word is an effective part of speech because we allow it to be.


Today why not let the key to extraordinary living be acceptance, listening to others and allowing them the right to be, to come forth.  You see, the word “key” is also related to the Gothic word “us-kijans” which translates as “come forth”.  Don’t insist that everyone look just like yourself or wear your style of clothing.  Let them be the key to your day; let their diversity enhance your world and allow some diversity to come forward and be a key factor towards making today more interesting, more extraordinary.


In the mid twentieth century doctors discovered why orphans in several countries seemed to suffer blindness although at their birth the infants’ eyesight was seemingly healthy.  The orphanages were painted white to help with cleanliness and had little if any decorations.  That meant the infants saw only bland white walls.  They went blind simply because their eye muscles had nothing with which to exercise or grow and, like any body part which is unused, optic ability atrophied resulting in blindness.  Once colors were added and the children were given things upon which to focus, the rate of blindness dropped to being almost non-existent.


The key to our making an ordinary day extraordinary might be how we view things and the multiple meanings we allow each other to have.  We all have the ability to be the key to a brighter future.


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