Fun Etymology Tuesday – Whiskey

Time for some Tuesday fun!

Today’s word is “whiskey”! Coming to English around 1715, this name of an alcoholic beverage made from either malt (in Scotland and Ireland) or corn or rye (US), comes from the Gaelic word “uisge beatha”, literally meaning the water of life! The Gaelic word comes from Old Irish “uisce”, meaning “water”, from a compounded form of the PIE root *ud-skio-, a suffixed Form of the root *wed, meaning water or wet, and “bethu”, meaning life, from a suffixed form of the PIE root *gwei-, meaning to live.

The Gaelic is probably also a loan, this time from Medieval Latin’s “aqua vitae”, a name applied to intoxicating drinks since early 14th century.

There’s some spelling variation in the modern English word (in Scotch “whisky” and in Irish and American it’s “whiskey”), but that’s a 19th century innovation. Before that though, whiskey could be spelt in a good number of ways: in 1580, we find the spelling “iskie bae” and as late as 1706, we find the rather interesting variant: “usquebea”! How about that for spelling variation?

See you next week!

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