Fun Etymology Tuesday – Spirits

And we’re back, with yet another Fun Etymology! Today’s word is “spirits” (in the alcoholic sense of the word).

The word itself comes from Anglo-French spirit, Old French espirit, from Latin spiritus, meaning a breathing (both respiration and of the wind, breath and breath of god. From this Latin root, we also get spirit (meaning the soul or a ghost), of course, which is related with a bunch of other sayings (like being in “high spirit”). The Latin root is related to Latin spirare, meaning “to breathe”, perhaps from PIE *(s)peis-, meaning “to blow” (which, btw, is the source of Old Church Slavonic pisto, meaning to play on the flute).

So, how did we get from breathing to liquor? Well, from the late 14th century, this word started to be used in alchemy, meaning a “volatile substance” or “distillate”, and from c. 1500 as “substance capable of uniting the fixer and the volatile elements of the philosopher’s stone”. Sound kinda Harry Potter-y right? Anyway, this led to spirits meaning a “volatile substance”, a meaning that became semantically narrowed to “strong alcoholic liquor” by the 1670s.

A pretty long trip from it’s “original” meaning and it’s modern, wouldn’t you say?

Welcome back next week!

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