- Pronunciation: -jē
- Function: noun
- Inflected Form(s): plural et·y·mol·o·gies
- Etymology: Middle English ethimologie, from Anglo-French, from Latin etymologia, from Greek, from etymon + -logia -logy
- Date: 14th century
1 : the history of a linguistic form (as a word) shown by tracing its development since its earliest recorded occurrence in the language where it is found, by tracing its transmission from one language to another, by analyzing it into its component parts, by identifying its cognates in other languages, or by tracing it and its cognates to a common ancestral form in an ancestral language
2 : a branch of linguistics concerned with etymologies
I’m not sure exactly when I fell in love with words. I think it happened in high school; though I’ve been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember, I distinctly recall a time in the early Summer during the middle of high school where I became fascinated by the English language, obscure words, and their histories. I vividly remember devouring books like The Endangered English Dictionary. It just sort of… happened, not terribly different from how I fell in love with wine, actually.
Mind you, my love affair with wine happened well after high school, since I was of course too young to legally drink alcohol back them… ahem…
I was recently contacted by Charles Hodgson, an author and podcaster about receiving a review copy of his latest book, History of Wine Words – An Intoxicating Dictionary of Etymology and Word Histories from the Vineyard, Glass, and Bottle. I’m sure that Charles wanted to send me a copy because of the blog (mine, I mean), and not because of my closet desire to be an etymologist, since there’s no way he could have known about that unless he’s also a clairvoyant (to the best of my knowledge, his podcast is about etymology and not long-distance cross-border mind-reading).
As is the case with most of my book reviews, things started out skeptically when I read the back cover:
“A stimulant at dinner parties, wine tastings and cocktail parties. Plus, as a gift, this book makes an excellent accompaniment to a housewarming bottle.”
Hmmm, I thought, you could say the same thing about marijuana. Or Viagra.
I’m happy to report that if you can get past the horrible back cover description, you’ll find History of Wine Words an absolute joy to page through.
The book is laid out like a mini-dictionary, and even hard-core wine lovers will probably be surprised at how many interesting tidbits are contained in the entries. Besides learning the probable origins of wine concepts like the British favorite claret (which probably started as a reference to ‘clear’ Rose style wines), you’ll also find History of Wine Words chock full of major-league wine word trivia (e.g., cultivar was coined by 4-H Club founder Liberty Hyde Bailey in 1923).
My favorite entries turned out to be the ones that were the most obvious but also the most ambiguous – namely, those used to describe wine and the act of tasting. Take, for example, the entry on Body:
“People have long struggled to come up with language that could adequately describe the tastes and aromas of wine… To say a wine is full bodied is one of the more successful expressions of the wine experience, communicating a feeling of fullness and roundness in the mouth. But even this expression is only a partial success; if you’re thinking “What does ‘roundness in the mouth’ mean?” then I’ve made my point.”
That is just so good.
Another fave for me – Palate:
“Someone with a sophisticated palate is able to pick out more nuances when tasting wine. This sense of the word palate refers to a person’s taste and sense of taste, even though the part of the mouth called the palate contains no taste buds.”
You’ve got to love that. Hodgson has done his homework in chasing down the history of the wine words and phrases in History of Wine Words, and his tone is just snarky enough to ensure the book doesn’t devolve into a purely intellectual exercise – we are talking about wine after all, right?