Friday, 1 August 2008

beer and poison

The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology informs us that beer is a West Proto-Germanic borrowing of monastic Latin biber "drink". The original Proto-Germanic word for the beverage was *aluþ- - modern English ale. Only English retains both beer and ale; the North Germanic languages have ale (Old Norse ǫl, Swedish öl, Danish øl), and the other West Germanic languages have beer (German Bier, Dutch bier). However, Old Norse also has bjórr, which according to Cleasby and Vigfusson

is a foreign word, as is indicated even by the expression in the Alvismál--öl heitir með mönnum, en með Ásum bjór, ale it is called by men, by gods beer.

Vulgar Latin biber is from Latin bibere "to drink", from the Proto-Indo-European *peh₃(i)- "to drink". (The Latin b is explained by assimilation: the reduplicated *pi-ph₃-o- was voiced to something like *pi-bo- then assimilated to *bi-bo-.)

The suffixed form *poh₃-ti- became Latin pōtiō, pōtiōnis "drink", then Old French puison, meaning "magic potion". potion is also from the same Latin word thru Old French.

Bosworth and Toller say:

Beer, made from malted barley, was the favourite drink of the Anglo-Saxons. In their drinking parties, they pledged each other in large cups, round at the bottom, which must be emptied before they could be laid down, hence perhaps the name of a tumbler. We are speaking of the earliest times, for beer is mentioned in Beowulf
Beowulf chapter 8:

ful ofꞇ ᵹebeoꞇeꝺon beoꞃe ꝺꞃuncne ofeꞃ ealo ƿæᵹe oꞃeꞇ mecᵹaſ ꝥ hıe ınbeoꞃſele bıꝺan ƿolꝺon ᵹꞃenꝺleſ ᵹuþe mıꝺ ᵹꞃẏꞃum ecᵹa ·

Seamus Heaney's version (480):

Ful oft gebēotedon     bēore druncne
ofer ealo-wǣge     ōret-mecgas
þæt hīe in bēor-sele     bīdan woldon
Grendles gūþe     mid gryrum ecga.

"Time and again, when the goblets passed
and seasoned fighters got flushed with beer
they would pledge themselves to protect Heorot
and wait for Grendel with whetted swords."

Here's another, ickier, occurrence, from a book of medicine:

Cockayne, Leechdoms, wortcunning, and starcraft of early England
ᵹenım beoꞃ ꝺꞃæſꞇan ⁊ ꞅapan · ⁊ æᵹeꞅ ꝥ hƿıꞇe ⁊ ealꝺe ᵹꞃuꞇ leᵹe on ƿıð omena ᵹeꞅƿelle.

"Take beer dregs and soap and the white of an egg and old groats, lay on for erysipelatous swelling."

Props to Language is the People's for talking about some cool brand names for the drink which gods call beer.


Terry said...

The late Christine Fell pointed out a quarter of a century ago that "beor" and beer are pretty certainly NOT the same drink.

C. E. Fell, ‘Old English beor’, Leeds Studies in English, viii (1975), 76–95.

goofy said...

Thanks Terry, I'll have a look. However, they *are* the same word.