Wednesday, 22 April 2015


I do like to find out the origin of words. Yesterday it was the turn of "grog". According to an article I found yesterday we gained that word this way. Sailors used to receive a daily tot of neat rum. I knew that already, as a matter of fact. What I didn't know was that the practice continued until 1970. Maybe someone decided that it was not a good idea to be operating increasingly technological machinery after drinking a tot of rum. The practice was introduced in the first place because the water they took with them on the boats was so foul. 

Anyway, in 1740 a certain Admiral Edward Vernon introduced a mixture of one part rum to four parts water, flavoured with lemon juice (to provide vitamin C and try to prevent scurvy) and brown sugar. The admiral was known as Old Grog because he wore a cloak made from grogram, a waterproof fabric. And so the drink was given the name grog in his (dubious) honour. His aim was to reduce drunkenness but many sailors used to save up their drinks and then go on a spree, ending up feeling "groggy". 

It's interesting to discover where the words for feeling out of sorts come from. Words that we use all the time without thinking about where they come from. There's "groggy" and there is also "lousy", which comes from a time when it was difficult to combat headlice and the constant need to scratch your head as the nasty little creatures nibbled away at you made you feel ill. Oh my goodness, I now want to scratch my head! 

Back to grog: the fabric that old Grog's cloak was made from - grogram - gets its name from a mispronunciation of a French word "grosgrain" which means "rough weave", producing a tough, heard wearing fabric. Actually, it's not so much a mispronunciation as an anglicised spelling of the French pronunciation. The Spanish have the habit of "hispanifying" borrowed foreign words in this way, "leader" became "lîder", "meeting" became "mítin" and "croissant" became croisán". They have not yet put an accent on the first syllable of "penalty" but then, they simply mispronounce it, putting the emphasis on the second syllable. But they have made "goal" into "gol". 

You can't win them all.

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