Fun Etymology Tuesday – Liquor


Today’s word is “liquor”. Coming to English during the Middle English period from Old French licor, from Latin liquorem (in nominative form becoming liquor), which originally came from the word liquere, this little word is an excellent example of a semantic language change known as “semantic narrowing”.
You see, the Latin form liquorem could indicate a liquid, liquor, wine or even the sea! The older Latin form liquere simply meant “be fluid, liquid” so it didn’t necessarily indicate something containing alcohol. The narrowed sense caught on quickly though, and roughly 100 years (c1300) after the word itself was first recorded, the narrowed meaning of some fermented or distilled drink shows up. By the 18th century, the broader sense that the word originally had appears to have become obsolete and we’re left with a much more limited meaning. Such language changes are quite common in languages as they evolve, and we’ll definitely see more of them in coming FunEties, but in the meantime, enjoy the fact that “As long as liquor is in him” was a Middle English expression, “as long as he is alive”.

Welcome back next week!

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