Word of the Month: Alcohol

Usually our word of the month is linked thematically with a current or historical event or holiday that occurs during the month in question. This is not the case this time. Instead we selected a subject arbitrarily and that subject is alcohol, n., a class of compounds of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, specifically ethyl alcohol, an intoxicating liquid; from the medieval Latin, ultimately from the Arabic al-kuhul. The Arabic word referred to powdered antimony, used in cosmetics; applied in English to mean any powder produced by sublimation (1543); later applied to any distilled product (1642); finally to distilled liquors (1753); the specific chemical sense is from 1850.

What follows are the names of various types of liquor and other terms associated with alcohol and booze.

absinthe, n., a liqueur made from wine mixed with wormwood (modern absinthe is no longer made with wormwood); from the French name for the wormwood plant, ultimately from the Latin absinthum; 1842.

ale, n., a liquor made from fermented malt, hops, or other grains; originally distinguished from beer in that hops were not used in ale, but in modern use it differs because the grain used in ale is not roasted, resulting in a lighter brew; from the Old English alu, c.950.

aqua vitae, n., any alcoholic drink (1547), originally an alchemist’s term for any combustible liquid (1471); from the Latin meaning water of life, cf. whisky.

aquavit, n., a Scandinavian liquor distilled from potatoes; from the Scandinavian for aqua vitae, 1890.

Armagnac, n., a brandy from the Armagnac region of France, 1850.

arrack, n., a liquor distilled from fermented coco-palm sap or coconut juice, ca. 1602.

bathtub gin, n., homemade liquor, 1930.

beer, n., a liquor made from malt, hops, and other grains; from the Old English beor, ca.1000. The word was rare until the 16th C. when hops were introduced into the process and beer was used for the hopped beverage.

bitter, n., a type of beer, characterized by its taste, 1857.

bootleg, v., to trade in illicit liquor, from the practice of hiding bottles in one’s bootlegs, 1889. Also used as an adjective for illicit liquor or other articles. Also bootlegger, one who bootlegs.

booze, n., alcoholic drink, American slang from 1859. In earlier use to mean a drink of any type, 1732. From bouse meaning drink, liquor, or to drink.

bourbon, n., a type of American whiskey, originally from Bourbon County, Kentucky, 1846.

brandy, n., distilled wine. Originally brandwine, from the Dutch brandewijn, or burnt wine. Brandwine dates to 1622; the form brandy from 1657.

burgundy, n., red wine from the Burgundy region of France, 1672.

cabernet, n., a type of wine grape, from the French, 1833.

champagne, n., wine from the Champaign region of France, especially sparkling wine from this region and more generally sparkling wine from anywhere, 1664.

cider, n., fermented drink made from apples, c.1315. From the Old French sidre; ultimately from the Hebrew shekar, meaning strong drink, via the Latin and Greek.

cognac, n., brandy made in the town of Cognac, France or more generally to any French brandy, 1687.

dry, adj., related to prohibition of alcohol, favoring prohibition, 1870.

ethanol, n., 1900, also ethyl alcohol, 1869. Chemical compound, C2H5OH, that is the intoxicating compound produced by fermentation.

gin, n., grain spirit flavored with juniper berries, 1714. A clipping of geneva, meaning the same thing, 1706. From the Dutch genever, ultimately from the Latin juniperus.

grappa, n., brandy distilled from pits, stalks, and skins of grapes that have been pressed for wine, from the Italian, 1893.

hooch, n., American slang term for cheap or inferior liquor, from the name of the Hoochinoo Indians of Alaska who made a type of strong liquor. Hooch dates to 1897; the use of hoochinoo to refer to liquor is somewhat older, 1877. From the Tlingit Hutsnuwu, meaning grizzly bear fort.

lager, n., light-colored beer, brewed after the German fashion, suitable for long-term storage, 1855. A clipping of lager beer, 1853. From the German lager, meaning store, + beer.

liqueur, n., a sweetened and flavored alcoholic beverage, 1742. From liquor.

liquor, n., alcoholic beverage, originally a liquid of any type. The alcoholic beverage sense dates to ca.1300. From the Old French and ultimately the Latin.

malt, n., 1) name for barley or other grain used to produce alcoholic beverages; 2) Scottish term for drink in general, c.1547; 3) whisky made from malt, often malt whisky, 1718. From the Old English.

merlot, n., type of black wine grape, from the French, which in turn is from merle, or blackbird, an allusion to the grape’s color, 1825.

mezcal, n., alcoholic drink made from the agave plant, 1828. From the Spanish. Tequila is a variety of mezcal.

moonshine, n., illegally distilled or smuggled liquor, 1782. Probably so called because it is manufactured under cover of darkness.

pilsner, n., a lager beer with a hoppy flavor, 1877. Originally it referred to beer brewed in the town of Pilsen in Bohemia, but now is used to denote beer brewed in the Pilsner fashion.

porter, n., a type of beer brewed with partially charred or browned malt, resulting in a dark color and bitter taste, 1727. A clipping of porter’s ale or porter’s beer, a reference to the fact that the beer was originally popular among the laboring class.

poteen, n., illicitly distilled liquor made in Ireland, especially from a small, private still, 1812. From the Irish poitin, or little pot, a clipping of uisge poitín, or little pot whisky.

prohibition, n., the banning of the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages, esp. the nationwide ban in the United States that lasted from 1920-33. First used in this sense in 1851.

proof, n., a measurement of the strength of an alcoholic beverage, a full (100%) proof beverage has a specific gravity of 0.92 and is 49.5% alcohol by weight (57.3% by volume). Proof is measured by percentage, with pure alcohol being 200% proof. From having a proved or tested strength. 1705.

pulque, n., an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the agave plant, from the Spanish, the ultimate origin is unknown, probably from a Native American word, 1693.

rum runner, n., a liquor smuggler, 1920.

rum, n., an alcoholic beverage made from products of sugar cane, especially molasses, 1654. Of unknown origin, possibly a clipping of rumbullion and rumbustion, both also of unknown origin, which date to a few years earlier.

rye, n., American name for whiskey made from rye, a cereal grain, 1835. The word for the grain is from the Old English.

sangria, n., red wine diluted with lemon water and served chilled, 1961, from the Spanish for bleeding. Formerly sangaree in English usage, 1736.

sauvignon, n., a white grape used for wine, from the French.

schnapps, n., any of a variety of liqueurs with high alcoholic content, from the German for a dram, mouthful, 1818.

scotch, n., whisky from Scotland, especially that which is made from malt, 1835.

shiraz, n., a red wine grape from France, from the once-held belief that the grape was originally from the city in Persia of that name, 1927. Also called syrah, after the French name for the grape.

sour mash, n., American whisky made from fermented grain mash, 1885.

speakeasy, n., a bar or store where illegal alcohol is sold, 1889. From the idea that it should not be spoken of loudly.

spirits, n., a distilled alcoholic beverage, 1685. From an earlier sense meaning a distilled liquid containing the essence of a substance.

tequila, n., a variety of mezcal, an alcoholic beverage distilled from the fermented sap of the agave, 1849.

vodka, n., an alcoholic beverage usually distilled from rye, but also from barley, potatoes and other substances, 1802. From the Russian for little water.

Volstead Act, prop.n., the act of Congress that enforced the 18th amendment to the US Constitution that prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages. Officially called the “National Prohibition Act,” it was sponsored by Andrew Volstead, a Republican representative from Minnesota, and passed in 1920. It was annulled by the 21st Amendment in 1933.

wet, adj., relating to alcohol, c.1700.

whiskey, whisky, n., an alcoholic beverage distilled from any of a variety of grains, from the Gaelic uisgebeatha, 1715. The American spelling is predominantly whiskey, with whisky being preferred in Britain.

white lightning, n., American slang term for illegally distilled whiskey, 1921. 

wine, n., fermented juice of grapes, from the Old English win, ultimately from the Latin vinum.

zinfandel, n., a variety of wine grapes used in California, 1880.

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