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Not having given it that much contemplation I always assumed that Marvin Gaye was walking through a vineyard for his 1968 song. But apparently not. And, while I was aware that the word alcohol was Arabic in origin, I didn’t know it was a kind of make-up al kuhul. As kohl is an extract and a dye, alcohol began to mean the pure essence of anything (the alcohol of an ass’s spleen anyone?) and only from the 1750’s did (wine) alcohol become what it means today. Just two snippets from the amazing The Etymologicon that now resides in my Kindle ap.

Elsewhere there is also a superb explanation of why George Washington’s plantation is named after British Admiral Edward Vernon, who, incidentally led a 1739 British assault on Porto Bello in Panama and how, to the west of London a farm was named in honour of the attacks success. The road to the, long vanished farm, is now home to Portobello antiques market. Old Vernon’s nickname (from his thick coat made from grogram) also came to mean the watered down rum he served to the seamen (grog) and lent, eventually, to how alcohol makes you groggy. I mean, you just got to love this stuff!

To avoid being groggy perhaps make today and tomorrow a non-drink day. For these, according to the latest edition of When Wine Tastes Best (a biodynamic calendar for wine drinkers), these are Root days and not good for wine tasting. Not good also, for celebrating today’s Chinese New Year although Burns night on the 25th is a Flower day – they thus recommend substituting wine for the traditional whisky!

“Vodka, whisky [aqua vitae – water of life], aquavit, balderdash [wine mixed with beer or water that could be sold cheap] and rum are just enough to make the sort of punch that will knock you out. Only just, mind you, because punch comes from the Hindi word for five: panch. That’s because, technically, a punch should contain five different ingredients: spirits, water, lemon juice, sugar and spice. That’s also the reason that the area of India that contains five rivers is called the Punjab”

the etymologicon

The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language is available in book form from Amazon for £7.99 and as a Kindle download for £1.99.

The booklet When Wine Tastes Best: 2012 is available from Amazon for £2.99.

1 Comment »

  1. I love etymology, fascinating stuff, for example I never new that the word alcohol was Arabic in origin! Thanks for the great post.

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