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Friday, December 12, 2008

Yeasty Word Origins

Today I spent almost all my time working on writing assignments (for which I get paid). One of these is about beer... I know... not a topic I have a lot of background knowledge about. But here are three interesting word origins. I expect you may know the first one already, but it fits so well here that I will include it. The word "honeymoon" comes from the Teutonic custom of giving beer made from honey to newlyweds which they were to drink for a month after their wedding. The word "beer" itself comes from Middle English "ber(e)" which comes from Latin "bibere," to drink. We also get the word "imbibe" from the same root. Finally, and I just love this one, here's a contorted pathway leading to the naming of a lowly strain of yeast. The taxonomic name for the yeast commonly used for brewing beer is Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The species part "cerevisiae" comes from the Celtic word for beer. The Romans considered the Celts to be anyone living north of the Alps, thus barbarians. And the barbarians were associated with the drinking of beer, rather than wine. This was, in reality, mostly due to the climatological problem of growing grapes or other fruit in the northern latitudes. Wine was for the Mediterranean culture. Northern peoples fermented grain, ie. beer. So there we have one of the origins of the notion that beer drinkers have less social standing than wine drinkers. But look whose word for beer has been awarded to brewer's yeast! He who laughs last?

2 comments:

Ratty said...

I don't drink alcohol, but I love interesting information like this. Learning this kind of historical trivia is one of my favorite things.

Sharkbytes said...

Hi Ratty- I don't drink either! So I had to do a lot of research for that article. But I, too, love words.

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