Hungry and Thirsty Words!      by Robert Wilde

 

The English aren't shy about drinking. They have imported both alcohol and foreign words for it and are high on the list of the world's drinkers.

 

Take gin for instance. Very English, you might think - but it isn't. The word comes to us in a strange way.

Latin juniperus - referring to the berry which gives the drink its taste - travelled to Holland, where its Dutch form, genever, became confused with the Swiss town Geneva. 18th-century English soldiers fighting in Holland brought samples home and the name shortened to gin.

 

Brandy, too, is an alcoholic and language borrowing. It originates from Germany where it was made by heating wine over a fire until only a very strong alcohol was left. Brandywine (from German Branntwein - burnt wine) was the earliest English form and is now shortened to brandy.

 

Whisky, or whiskey, are Scottish and Irish words meaning water of life. People who have drunk too much the night before may well think of them as life-savers at lunchtime, although they may only be delaying their hangover, a word which needs no explanation.

 

You might say a hangover is the aftermath (result) of heavy drinking - but aftermath - anything mathematical here? Not at all - aftermath is a very old word and refers to the cut grass left after you have mown the lawn as a punishment from your wife for returning home late. It comes originally from German After, and an old form of the German verb meaning to `cut grass.'

 

What follows an aperitif - a word referring to a pre-lunch drink - and deriving from a Latin word meaning to sharpen - in this case sharpening the appetite? Food, of course, (connected with fodder, food for animals, and originally from German Futter) and here English has shamelessly borrowed from other languages, perhaps because English cooking is not particularly popular.

 

Notice the English words for meat - that from a calf is called veal, from French veau and a cow gives beef - from French boeuf.

 

Mutton is our word for meat from a grown sheep - from French mouton, but oddly we have taken lamb, from German Lamm, for the meat from a baby sheep.

 

Turkey is different; imported into Europe as the turkey-cock from Mediterranean areas which were owned by Turkey it was believed to be a bird originating from Istanbul rather than its true home, Central America. The bird is thought to be so stupid that in American English turkey is now a term of disapproval for people or things.

 

Both potato and tomato come from the New World; from Amero-Indian languages, as does tobacco.

 

Well, the food is fine - how about the sauces? Gravy is simple - it's connected with gravity from old-French gravé.

As meat cooks the juices fall into the cooking tin and you can make a delicious sauce from these.

 

Although I'm an Englishman and must accept that our national cuisine - from French cuisine and Italian cucina, meaning kitchen - is not well thought of, nothing can beat English mustard. It must be Colman's, and it must be freshly made from mustard powder. It's very good with Thai sai gror. Only German mustard comes near in terms of flavour, and that's only for sausages (from French saucisses).

 

I'm hungry now. I'm off for a good meal ( originally from Latin metiri to measure, through German Mal (time or occasion) and gradually changing its meaning from measure to that which is `measured out' to you, i.e. your equal portion from the cooking pot) and I wish we English had a phrase like French 'bon appétit' to wish somebody a good time at the dining table! But we don't - and the reason is that English cooking is not too `aroi mak'!