The Word Guy: Lift a glass to liquid locutions
By Rob Kyff

Published: Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, 8:57 p.m.

If you attend an academic symposium, you'll notice a glass or bottle of water in front of each panelist. These hydrated highbrows provide a clue to the origin of the word “symposium.”

Ancient Greek philosophers lubricated their intellectual debates with plenty of wine. So they called such a gathering a “symposium,” from “syn-” (together) and “pinein” (to drink), literally “drinking together.”

Pour yourself a drink as I tell you about other English words inspired by alcohol-fueled shenanigans.

At wedding feasts in medieval England, the bride (“bryd”) was toasted with special ale (“ealu”) called “brydealu.” Eventually “brydealu” (later “bridale” and “bridal”) became a general adjective for anything related to the bride or wedding — which certainly gives a new meaning to the term “bridal shower.”

That shower will likely draw a bevy of bridesmaids. And, sure enough, “bevy” also hails from hooch. The Old French word “beivre,” meaning “to drink,” inspired the English word “beverage,” as well as “bevee,” which denoted a group of drinkers.

Perhaps because flocks of birds often drink together (ever wondered why cranes whoop?), “bevy” came to mean a flock of birds and, eventually, a group of people.

And there's liquor in “lampoon.” (Why am I not surprised?) In 17th-century France, students would sit in cafes, lift their glasses and shout “Lampons!” (Let us drink!”). This cry punctuated their satirical drinking songs, which, in turn, became known as “lampons.” English soon imbibed “lampons” as “lampoon” (“a scurrilous satire”).

Both “hob nob” and “carouse” were also barroom babies.

During the 1100s, English drinkers would cry to one another, “Habban-nabban?” (“Do you want a drink or not?”), which, judging from what I know of merry Olde England, drew more “habbans” than “nabbans.” From this ritual invitation emerged the modern “hob nob,” meaning “to chat convivially, intermingle.”

Meanwhile, Germans were draining their beer glasses and yelling, “gar aus” (“completely finished”). During the 1550s, English imported “garaus,” with the meaning “sitting around drinking until closing time,” and soon coined the verb “carouse” (“to engage in excessive drinking”) — as well as “symposium” (to engage in excessive thinking.)

Rob Kyff is a teacher in West Hartford, Conn. Send reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, to or to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 Third St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.



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