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11 Boozy Word Origins

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Whether barbecuing with an ice-cold brewski or sipping a G & T poolside, many of us will be kicking back this summer with our favorite adult beverages. While we’re at it, let’s reach into the etymological cooler and crack open the origins of some everyday booze names:

1. BEER

English has been guzzling the word beer since its early days. Served up from the Old English beor, beer has cognates in the Germanic languages. But for as much as we love to drink the beverage, etymologists don’t exactly know the word’s deeper origins. Some have suggested beer ultimately comes from an ancient Germanic root for “barley,” indeed a major ingredient of beer. Others suppose early monks borrowed beer from the Latin bibere, “to drink.” And as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) observes: “The word occurs in Old English, but its use is rare, except in poetry, and it seems to have become common only in the 16th c. as the name of hopped malt liquor.” Beer, ever the muse, apparently.

2. MEAD

Mead is made of honey—and so, too, is the word. It comes from the Old English medu, from a root for “honey” long fermenting in Indo-European languages. The root appears in the Greek methy, a word for “wine” featured in amethyst, literally “not drunk,” which the ancients reputed prevented inebriation.

3. WINE

Found in the record as early as 805, English corked the word wine from the Latin vinum, which also gives us the word for what grapes grow on: vines. Forms of the word wine are found all across Indo-European languages—and some think even in Semitic languages. The Arabic wain and Hebrew yayin lead some scholars to suggest an ancient root of wine in a lost Mediterranean language.

4. PORT

Port, a type of fortified wine, originally shipped to England out of the city Oporto, or in its Portuguese native, o porto, “the port.” Porto itself hails from the Latin portus (port, harbor) and is related to verb portare, “to carry or bring,” featured in English words from portable to transportation. Portus Cale was a Roman name for a settlement near Porto—and source of the name Portugal.

5. BRANDY

A spirit distilled from wine and often enjoyed as a digestif, brandy was shortened from brandy-wine when it was borrowed from the Dutch brandewijn in the mid-1600s. The Dutch word literally means “burnt wine,” with burnt referring to the process of distillation, in which the spirit’s purity was historically checked with flammability tests.

6. SHERRY

The word pease was mistaken as a plural, giving us a pea. The word cherise was also misconstrued as a plural, yielding a cherry. So, too, with sherry, another type of fortified wine from the Iberian peninsula. In his 1608 A Mad World, My Masters, playwright Thomas Middleton writes of shirry, taking it as the singular of sherris, the older name for this aperitif. Sherris comes from vino de Xeres, for the Spanish town, now Jerez, where it was made. Historically, the Spanish pronounced x like sh.

7. CIDER

While now largely fermented from apples, cider—or hard cider—etymologically had no fruit preferences. Making the rounds from French, Latin, and Greek, cider ultimately bubbles up from the Hebrew shekar, any “intoxicating liquor,” related to shakar, “to drink deeply or to the point of intoxication.” Early translators used forms of the word cider for references to “strong drink” in the Old Testament.

8. GIN

The name of this spirit was shortened in the early 1700s from geneva or genever, a drink the Dutch distilled from grain and flavored with juniper berries. Juniper is the etymological mixer here, as it were: the Dutch geneva/genever is borrowed from the French genevre, in turn formed from the Latin juniperus, meaning and source of the word juniper.

9. VODKA

As it’s often said, vodka means “water” in Russia. Well, technically it means something more like “little water.” Voda is “water” and, if we put back a couple of shots of Indo-European, is actually related to the English words water and wet. The -ka is a diminutive suffix—which may not express endearment as much as indicate, simply, its water-based content and water-like appearance. The word didn’t hit English shelves until the early 1800s.

10. WHISKEY

Speaking of water and stereotypes, whiskey comes from the Irish uisge beatha: “water of life.” Before reaching for the jokes, though, bear in mind that the Irish expression is probably a calque, or loan translation, of the Latin aqua vitae, also “water of life,” used of unrefined alcohol in 15th-century alchemy.

11. RUM

The origin of the word rum has had an etymological blackout, evidently. The earliest form so far attested for this sugarcane liquor is rumbullion in 1651, then rumbustion in 1652. The shortened rum appears by 1654. Word historians just aren’t certain where any of the forms come from, though they’ve served up many suggestions. One explanation roots rumbullion in an English dialectical word of the same name, meaning “tumult” or “uproar,” applied to the liquor due to its intoxicating effects. As for rumbustion, scholars suggest a playful blend of rumbullion and combustion, the latter again coloring rum’s results. Another links rum to the Malay beram, a kind of rice spirit, later elaborated to rumbullion. And yet another theory connects rum to an old slang term of obscure origin, rum, first meaning “excellent” and later “odd.” Indeed, the expression rum booze, or “good liquor,” is documented in 1688—and for imbibers of the beverage, that’s all that really matters in the end.

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Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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The Early 20th Century Society That Tried to Make English Spelling More Intuitive
George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Simplified Spelling Soesiety
George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Simplified Spelling Soesiety
Fox Photos/Getty Images

The English language is notorious for complex spelling rules—and the many words that break them. We all know i comes before e, except, of course, in certain weird words like, well, weird. We pronounce the letter i like eye if the word ends in an e—except in words like give. Unsurprisingly, even native English speakers get fed up with the inanity of the language’s complicated spelling conventions, and there have been several pushes to replace them with something a little more intuitive over the centuries, as The Public Domain Review highlights.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the London-based Simplified Speling Soesiety was one of the groups pushing for a more logical system of English spelling. Its journal, first published in 1912, refers to standard English spelling as "in sum waiz unreezonabl and retrograid.” So the group went about coming up with new ways to spell common words itself, hoping its alternate approach would catch on.

The Pioneer ov Simplified Speling contained a pronunciation guide, but many of its alternative spellings can be deciphered fairly easily. As long as you peruse carefully, that is. Reading through the publication feels like stumbling through an archaic text from hundreds of years ago, rather than something written during the 20th century.

A pronunciation guide from the 'Pioneer of Simplified Speling'
The Pioneer of Simplified Speling

Go ahead and wade into how the group, founded in 1908, explained its mission in the first edition of The Pioneer:

The aim ov the Soesiety nou iz tu plais befor the public cleer staitments ov the cais against the curent speling, tu sho hou seerius ar the consecwensez ov yuezing it, and hou much wood be gaind, if sum such sceem az that ov the Soesiety wer adopted.

Did you get all that?

The debut edition of the quirky journal, which you can read on the Internet Archive, includes not just the group’s mission statement and goals, but birthday congratulations to the Society’s founding president, aggregated updates about spelling in the news (like that in an interview, British chemist Sir William Ramsay mentioned a German child never making a spelling mistake), the announcement of the group’s annual meeting (at which members would submit new simplified spellings for discussion), and other minor spelling-related notes.

The whole thing is truly a treasure.

Fed-up readers and writers have been trying to wrangle English spelling conventions into something more manageable for essentially as long as there have been standardized spellings. Benjamin Franklin was a spelling reformer during his lifetime, as was Theodore Roosevelt. Soesiety member George Bernard Shaw went so far as to leave his estate in a trust dedicated to reforming the English alphabet when he died.

Though the spelling reformers of yore didn't find much mainstream acceptance for their ideas, there are still modern orthography obsessives who want to revamp the English spelling system to make it easier to learn. And they have a point: For English-speaking children, learning to read and write takes years longer than it does for kids learning to read in languages with easier spelling rules, like Finnish. Considering that one study of 7000 different English words found that 60 percent of them had irregularly used letters, it’s a wonder any of us English speakers have learned to read at all. If only the Simplified Speling Soesiety had gotten its way back in the early 1900s, maybe we would have an easier time of it.

[h/t The Public Domain Review]

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