Well met, followers all! It’s Tuesday, and the Ancient and Sacred Texts mandate that we write a Fun Etymology for you, our lovely audience.
This week’s word is a favourite: “beer”!
Ah, beer. Beverage of the gods. Loved by all Germanic peoples everywhere.
This fermented barley drink is the oldest recipe known to humanity: it dates back to the Sumerians! Some scholars even believe agriculture was invented because of a pressing human need to produce more booze.
Before the 18th century, beer was the primary beverage for most of Europe, because water was far too dangerous to drink. When the first techniques of water purification were invented, it was such a novelty that the rich hosted parties where they would invite other posh people to taste water.
The word itself is of uncertain origin. It has a cognate in German “Bier”, but in no other Germanic language, where the original Germanic word, cognate to English “ale”, is ubiquitous.
Some linguists think the word was borrowed by West Germanic monks in the 6th century from the Latin word “bibere”, meaning “drink”. Others trace its origins to Proto-Germanic *beuwo-, meaning “barley”.
When Germanic tribes invaded what was left of the Roman Empire, the word was borrowed back into Italian and French, where it survives as “birra” and “bière”, respectively, supplanting the Latin word “cerevisia”, which survives in Spanish “cerveza” and, to a limited extent, in Italian “cervogia”, now mostly used jocularly.