or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, March 03, 2008

Drink Up

You have to read this! A hilarious piece from The Onion called Idiom Shortage Leaves Nation All Sewed Up In Horse Pies.

Since beginning two weeks ago, the deficit in these vernacular phrases has affected nearly every English speaker on the continent, making it virtually impossible to communicate symbolic ideas through a series of words that do not individually share the same meaning as the group of words as a whole. In what many are calling a cast-iron piano tune unlike any on record, idiomatic expression has been devastated nationwide.

It had been a while since an Onion article made me laugh out loud, but this one did the trick.

The expression "oyster carnival" (it appears to mean "disaster") is one that deserves to make it into the language.


Here's a most interesting Slate article about mead, a drink made of fermented honey. (I've never had it, but I have had maple wine, which sounds similar: made of fermented maple syrup, it is very bright, sweet and maple-flavoured, with no acidity.)

Wouldn't you like to know where the word "mead" comes from? You'd never guess. Indo-European!

The IE word "medhu-" meant "honey", and also "mead". This evolved into Sanskrit "madhu", "honey", and Greek "methy", which actually meant "wine". We'll be getting back to that in just a minute. The Germanic languages made this into "medu", which became, in Old English, "meodu", and eventually "mede" and then "mead".

You can well imagine that honey was very important to Indo-European speakers, because they had two words for it; one was "medhu-" and the other was "melit-". This second word, through Greek "meli" and Latin "mel", also gave English a batch of offspring: "mellifluous", obviously, but also "molasses" and "marmalade", unsurprisingly. The surprising word from those sources is "mildew", because when it grows on plants, it's sticky, like honeydew, the substance that aphids secrete and ants devour.

Now. Doesn't Greek "methy" look familiar from two English words? First, "methyl alcohol", which, being a vicious poison, isn't winelike at all; but it is an alcohol nonetheless (originally made from wood rather than anything edible to humans). Second, "amethyst", the gorgeous semi-precious stone with a winey purple colour. Two theories as to its name: either it was superstitiously thought to prevent drunkenness (due to its colour, in the same way that red stones like carnelian were thought to aid the blood), or goblets made of amethyst were filled with heavily watered wine--the wateriness disguised by the colour of the stone--to keep already inebriated party guests from becoming more so.


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