English "wine", French "vin", Spanish "vino"

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Translators of Chinese poetry are tormented by how to render the term jiǔ 酒.  The nearly universal English rendering of jiǔ 酒 in Chinese belles lettres is "wine".  The problem is that "wine" is fruit based (usually grapes), whereas jiǔ 酒 is grain based.

This is a topic that has come up tangentially on Language Log many times in the past (see below for some references).  I am revisiting it now because, in the fall, I will be participating in an event in New York having to do with tea and wine.  In the minds of those who know Chinese, that will be framed in terms of chá 茶 and jiǔ 酒.

Let me begin by quoting this long comment I made on March 30, 2015 in response to a comment by Dave Cragin about a discussion he had had with a Chinese colleague concerning the distinctions among jiǔ 酒 ("alcohol"), pútáojiǔ 葡萄酒 ("wine"), and píjiǔ 啤酒 ("beer"):

Jiǔ 酒 ≠ "wine"

You were so right that JIU3 means "alcohol" and your Chinese colleague was so wrong to insist that it only means "wine". In fact, by itself it doesn't mean "wine" at all.

By chance, yesterday afternoon, we heard a talk on the following topic in our department: "Wine Road before the Silk Road: Hypotheses on the Origins of Chinese and Eurasian Drinking Culture". It was delivered by Peter Kupfer, Professor, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany. Peter was accompanied by my colleague, Patrick McGovern, author of Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages (2009).

Peter and Pat had just come from a conference on "Understanding Jiu: The History and Culture of Alcoholic Beverages in China" that was held on March 26, 2015 at UC Davis, which has one of the world's outstanding centers for (o)enology and viticulture.

Also present at the Penn seminar yesterday was Christoph Harbsmeier, a Sinologist from the University of Oslo. The discussion during and after Peter's presentation was vigorous and productive.

The consensus of the participants at the Penn seminar is in agreement with the definition for jiǔ 酒 in Paul Kroll's new A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese:

MC tsjuwX
1 gen. term for alcoholic beverages produced through fermentation, incl. those with infusions or spices that sometimes lend various colors such as rose-pink or amber. Although most drinks designated by this word are made from cereals and are thus akin to beer, from Western Han times it also ref. grape-wine (first brought from Central Asia) and “burnt-wine” (brandy), the former becoming esp. popular during Tang times; use “wine” as preferred rendering for its inclusiveness; to use “ale” is misleading as it ref. only to a specific type of beer which is actually most similar to → 醴 lǐ.

s.v. 醴, Kroll has:

MC lejX
1 sweet liquor, made with malt (nie 糵) and glutinous millet (shu 黍); often translated as “mead,” which is a serviceable rendering but technically inaccurate since honey is not an ingredient of this beverage; the more correct translation is “ale.”
2 day-old wine.

Note on the phonetic notation: The -X is part of Baxter's tonal spelling system, in which pingsheng syllables are unmarked; shangsheng syllables are indicated by a final -X; qusheng syllables are marked with a final -H, and rusheng syllables can be identified by the final obstruent. See William H. Baxter and Laurent Sagart, Old Chinese: A New Reconstruction (2014). Their Old Chinese reconstruction for jiǔ 酒 is tsuʔ. Axel Schuessler's Old Chinese reconstruction of jiǔ 酒 is tsjəuB, where B is a superscript and indicates a tonal category (Minimal Old Chinese and Later Han Chinese: A Companion to Grammata Serica Recensa [2009]).

We have had several posts about jiǔ 酒 on Language Log:

"Let the Beer-Divider Be Chief!" (8/5/09)

"Don't Drive in the What, er?" (8/4/09)

"Ethanol tampons" (12/5/14)

Tom Standage has a great chapter on "Beer in Mesopotamia and Egypt" in his A History of the World in 6 Glasses (2006), pp. 14-36. It is available on this blog.

About two-thirds of the way down the page, at the beginning of the section titled "The Origins of Writing", we find an illustration with this caption: "The evolution of the written symbol for beer in cuneiform. Over the years the depiction of the beer jar gradually became more abstract". (from 3200-1000 BC)

Here are the early forms of the Chinese character jiǔ 酒 for comparison.

There is a clear resemblance between the Sumerian and the Chinese symbols for "beer", both of which depict a jug. It's interesting that the oracle bone forms (second half of second millennium BC) for 酒 all have the three drops of water as a semantophore, whereas the bronze inscriptional forms (first millennium BC) and even some of the seal forms (latter part of the first millennium BC) lack the three dots for liquid, making the character for jiǔ 酒 identical to that for yǒu 酉 ("an ancient vase used in making and storing fermented millet liquors").

Bottom lines:

The Chinese word for "wine" is pútáojiǔ 葡萄酒 ("grape jiǔ"), where pútáo 葡萄 (there are many different ways to write this in Chinese characters) is a term for "grape" borrowed from an Iranian language.

If it's made from grain, which jiǔ 酒 traditionally was, it's not wine.

The Japanese alcoholic beverage called "sake" and made from fermented rice (N.B.: a grain) is written with the kanji 酒 (also has the Sino-Japanese pronunciation "shu").

Conventionally, loosely, and poetically, some folks may prefer to translate jiǔ 酒 as "wine", but sensu stricto it is technically not "wine".

What did the Chinese call "wine" during the Tang (618-907; had very close connections with western cultures, whence came the plants, terms, and technology for wine production) and other premodern periods?  Plain and simple, it was pútáojiǔ 葡萄酒?  The Chinese (Sima Qian [ca. 145/135-86 BC]) already used this term in the Shǐjì 史記 (The Scribe's Records) in reference to Greco-Bactrian Dàyuān 大宛 (in the Ferghana Valley), a center of grape cultivation, wine-making, and the probable source of the Chinese borrowing pútáo 葡萄.

I asked two specialists on the history of wine and alcoholic beverages in China precisely what the old Chinese poets were referring to when they wrote about drinking jiǔ 酒.  Here are their replies. 

Eric Trombert

When the Chinese poets wrote about drinking jiǔ 酒, that was almost always grain based. Except when the context mentions allusions to western people or countries, as the taverns in Chang'an where Sogdian girls are singing and dancing, or when an official appointed in Gansu or other place in the Far West is drinking "pour noyer son chagrin"!

So, jiǔ 酒 has the same meaning as the English "wine", not the narrow meaning of French "vin" or Spanish "vino".

About Dunhuang: all the examples of making jiǔ 酒 in the manuscripts show that it is grain based (wheat, barley, millet and wheat flour); see my paper in BEFEO, "Bière et bouddhisme: La consommation de boissons alcoolisées dans les monastères de Dunhuang aux VIIIe-Xe siècles", in Nouvelles études de Dunhuang, n° 11 des Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie, Kyoto, EFEO, 2000.

Peter Kupfer

I suggest, for academic purposes jiǔ 酒 should not be translated, especially not as "wine", if we are not sure that it means "grape wine". It would be acceptable to translate it as "alcoholic drink", but I would prefer just to use "jiu" as a technical term in other languages, to express its general meaning. pútáo 葡萄 with the meaning pútáojiǔ 葡萄酒 in classical sources, as a loanword from Persian "bade" since Eastern Han, appears in the description of Western regions since then, like in Shiji. Da Wan 大宛, old pronunciation "Da Yuan", was the country in Ferghana Valley with the descendants of Alexander, the "Ionians" (see Turkish "Yunan" for "Greece"), and they produced huge amounts of wine, storing it for decades.

It is often impossible to decide which kind of drink they mean when using "jiu" in different epochs and regions. In Shang (ca. 1600-ca. 1046 BC) and Zhou (ca. 1046-256 BC) times there were about 60 terms for alcoholic drinks, all using the yǒu 酉 component, jiǔ 酒 just being one kind in this variety (it would be a wonderful task to do research on all these old terms, like lǐ 醴, zhǎn  醆, pēi 醅, láo 醪, etc., reconstruct their previous pronunciations, and demonstrate that some of them came from the Middle East, together with the brewing technology!). As the recent findings in Mijiaya and elsewhere show, at least by the Shang period they brewed beer-like drinks and what Patrick McGovern calls "grogs", a mixture of different ingredients, just like in Mesopotamia and Egypt at around the same period. In the cosmopolitan Tang empire, "jiu" also could mean "putaojiu". To find out what is being referred to in each instance, we have to check the person, the context, and the geographic position. If "glass" (bōlí 玻璃), which was used in Persia to drink wine, is mentioned, it could be grape wine.  The poet, Li Bai (701-762), who loved wine, uses pǒluō 叵罗, a Persian loanword bolur for "crystal" (also transcribed as pōluō 颇罗 and most probably connected with bōlí 玻璃), in one of his poems, also mentioning pútáojiǔ 葡萄酒 and describing the North. So "jiu" in Jiangnan (the area south of the Yangtze) usually is grain based. Since the Jin (1115-1234; Jurchen) and Yuan (1271-1368; Mongol) dynasties, "jiu" also includes distilled drinks, making the situation even more complex!

To sum up, translating jiǔ 酒 in Chinese poetry causes lots of headaches, and just to use the English "wine" gives the wrong impressions and associations for a Western reader!  Consequently, I am of the opinion that jiǔ 酒 should not be translated as "wine" and should be kept untranslated as an essential term in Chinese culture that will be accepted by the academic community. And I also hope that there will be experts interested in working on all those 酉-characters and their pronunciations in Old Chinese / Sinitic, together with their possible relations to old Iranian words (which I believe to be the case).

These and many other points are discussed in my book which hopefully will be ready in 2-3 months, first in German.  I am not yet sure, whether and when I shall be able to presents some of its contents in English after that.

I will strongly encourage and support Peter to bring out an English version of his book, portions of which I have already seen in German.  I expect it to make an outstanding contribution to the history of alcoholic beverages in Eurasia, not least because Peter and his Iranian wife have spent years crisscrossing the combined continental landmass of Europe and Asia in their specially designed caraVAN doing research in museums and at historical and archeological sites.

Before closing, it is worth noting that the Wikipedia article on "wine" has these two intriguing sentences

There are also wines made from fermenting other fruits or cereals, whose names generally specify their base: fruit wine, rice wine, with some having specific names, e.g. cider for apple wine.

Wines made from plants other than grapes include rice wine (such as sake) and various fruit wines made from other fruits such as plums or cherries; some well known ones are hard cider from apples, perry from pears, pomegranate wine, and elderberry wine.

Finally, when I use the word "wine" in English, I invariably think or red or white wine made from grapes, and I cannot avoid having images of vineyards in my mind.  My question to Language Log readers is this:  when speakers of French, Spanish, and other languages refer to "vin", "vino", and other comparable words, is their conception of the referent narrower than that of English "wine"?

[Thanks to Brendan O'Kane]


This is the eighth part in a series on Old Sinitic reconstructions, the first six of which all appeared in March of this year:


  1. Tim Leonard said,

    August 6, 2016 @ 8:29 pm

    In English, there's even dandelion wine, made from flower petals.

  2. Mara K said,

    August 6, 2016 @ 8:51 pm

    How is "liquor" as a translation?

  3. F. said,

    August 6, 2016 @ 9:03 pm

    Very interesting topic and totally agree with you.

    I am no expert in Chinese poetry, but I believe that back then when 酒 was mentioned, it also expressed a feeling, normally a sorrow or happiness kind of feeling which is also very extremely difficult to translate it into English.

    Just like the word "saudades" in Portuguese, if translated into English it means "missing" and “思念,想念“ in Chinese, yet the there is a deep feeling in Portuguese that neither in English nor in Chinese can totally express.

    Considering there are so many different variety of wines which I may not know, but if I had to translate 酒 into English or Portuguese, I would probably just use "alcohol" or "álcool". However, it would be awkard to say in English "drink alcohol".

    This just shows translation is not just the words or a phrase, but also culture.

  4. Brett said,

    August 6, 2016 @ 9:03 pm

    For me, the generic English word for any alcoholic drink is "spirits." I find "liquor" implies something probably stronger than beer or wine.

  5. Michael Watts said,

    August 6, 2016 @ 9:24 pm

    It is awkward to say "drink alcohol" in English, but it is idiomatic to say "drink" with the identical meaning.

    Speaking as a native English speaker, I have a hard time imagining that the Romance language ideas of "vin" / "vino" / etc. are narrower than the English idea, since to me "wine" unambiguously refers to a grape product. Channeling an older comment thread, it would be about as fair to claim that the term "pomegranate wine" shows that the English idea of "wine" doesn't necessarily refer to grapes as it is to claim that the term "sea lion" shows that "lion" doesn't necessarily refer to cats.

  6. mdhughes said,

    August 6, 2016 @ 9:34 pm

    Booze? Which implies something stronger than beer or wine (vino), but may include saké.

  7. Fushichô said,

    August 6, 2016 @ 9:44 pm

    As a French native speaker, I invariably associate "vin" to red, white or rosé. For any other kinds of wine, like the redcurrant or walnut wines ("vin de groseille" and "vin de noix", respectively) my sister's mother-in-law used to make, the fruit used is specifically mentioned. When nothing is mentioned, it's grape wine.
    If in some parts of France there's a broader meaning for "vin", I'm not aware of it; but i'm not a linguist expert in the use of the word throught France (and other French-speaking countries). And I wasn't aware either the English "wine" was supposed to have a broader meaning than the French "vin", as Eric Trombert states. To me, "wine" = "vin".

  8. ryan said,

    August 6, 2016 @ 10:15 pm

    Another interesting post. I can contribute nothing. Except to express my sadness that my uncle is no longer here to elucidate some of this for me. He was the translator of the Jin Ping Mei, a work in which many cups of wine are downed, and I now wonder what type of wine they were.

  9. MsH said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 2:35 am

    To me (native British) "wine" normally means it's made from grapes, and only includes rice-wine and so on if those are specifically named. And I have no idea what they would look or taste like. However the crucial part of the meaning in a translation of a totally foreign context is, for me, the alcohol content. To understand the story I need an approximately correct idea of how far the character's choice of drink is focused on getting drunk and how far it is a matter of status, taste, hospitality, etc. Although all that is culturally specific, too, so often there can't be a direct translation.

  10. Jayarava said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 5:23 am

    In Pāḷi we have two terms for alcohol: surā and meraya. Both cause majja or "intoxication". But we have no idea what the terms stand for. Even the etymology is unclear.

    @MsH Beer is really just weak barley wine. I have a friend who makes wine mainly from elder flowers, birch sap, or raspberries, but not grapes.

    All these drinks use yeast-based fermentation to convert sugars into ethanol. So there is no principial difference between them. Names used to link strongly to ingredients (wine, beer, mead, cider) now the definitions are stretched almost to breaking point so that we have grain wines, fruit beers etc.

  11. Z. S. said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 7:26 am

    For me, the generic English word for any alcoholic drink is "spirits." I find "liquor" implies something probably stronger than beer or wine.

    "Spirit" makes me think of distillation. "Liquor," if I recall correctly, was used to refer to wine and maybe any liquid in Elizabethan poetry (e.g., "liquor of the grape"). But today, yes, it would mean something stronger. (The OED as "booze" as "Alcoholic drink, chiefly beer; U.S. esp. spirits.")

    Trombert's suggestion that there's a wider meaning of "wine" specific to English makes a certain amount of intuitive sense to me but I can't find any evidence for it. Wine as the prestige drink might have made it — with varying shades of irony — the default for any sort of "drink," but only in a poetic or metaphorical context? (But surely that was the case for "vin" etc. as well.)

  12. languagehat said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 8:02 am

    Speaking as a native English speaker, I have a hard time imagining that the Romance language ideas of "vin" / "vino" / etc. are narrower than the English idea, since to me "wine" unambiguously refers to a grape product.

    Same here.

    Trombert's suggestion that there's a wider meaning of "wine" specific to English makes a certain amount of intuitive sense to me but I can't find any evidence for it.

    It makes so little intuitive sense to me that when I read it I said "What?!" out loud.


    My thought as well. (The idea of using "jiu" is something that could only occur to an academic!)

  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 8:28 am

    Z. S.: Trombert's suggestion that there's a wider meaning of "wine" specific to English makes a certain amount of intuitive sense to me but I can't find any evidence for it.

    The use of "rice wine" to translate sake may have been involved.

    I hardly drink at all and I'm not sure I've ever tasted sake. Does anyone know why it is or was called "rice wine" instead of "rice beer" or "rice ale"? No bubbles?

  14. languagehat said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 8:34 am

    The use of "rice wine" to translate sake may have been involved.

    The French also say vin de riz; it's a natural extension of (or, if you prefer, metaphor based on) the basic sense, but doesn't change that sense.

  15. Stephen said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 8:36 am

    Again a native English speaker and to me wine means fermented grape juice.

    There are sort-of wine type drinks made from other things but they are, IME, always given a compound name, the dandelion wine that Tim Leonard mentions being only one example, see
    for numerous others. NB the URL refers to these as fruit wines or country wines, both of which are common generic terms.

    It may have been the case when wine was only drunk rich(er) people who could afford expensive imported goods that these country wines were just called wine. If so that usage has disappeared.

    @Z. S.
    '"Liquor," if I recall correctly, was used to refer to wine and maybe any liquid in Elizabethan poetry'

    In accord with that, nowadays a British brewer of beer who refers to liquor is talking about the water that he uses for brewing.

    Aside: That water may have been chemically treated to make it match a standard, typically the hardness of the water. The water used may be from a different source (the original may have been a well), the source may have changed nature over the decades or may change nature during the course of the year.

  16. Mr Punch said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 9:34 am

    "Malt liquor" is a well-established term in English. Not very classy, though.

  17. Michael Watts said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 9:41 am

    Seriously, the idiomatic, formal-register term for an alcoholic drink is "a drink". If I wanted to translate a poem and stick to a generic term for alcohol, that's what I'd use.

  18. Mara K said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 9:43 am

    As I understand it, part of the difference between beer, wine, and spirits in English is alcohol content (not to mention grain vs fruit vs grain). Sake and its Chinese and Korean counterparts are not only made from grain, but also much stronger in general than wines–can we say sake is "rice vodka" or something similar? (Or that vodka is "potato sake"?)

  19. JS said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 10:12 am

    I still like "brew", but Michael Watts has convinced me that "drink" (n., etc.) would be useful on occasion. I share the intuition that "wine" is OK applied more broadly, but suspect this may be due to having read a lot of translations from Chinese :/

  20. languagehat said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 10:42 am

    That conflation can make life difficult for unsuspecting inhabitants of the intercultural zone. When I was teaching college in Taiwan almost forty years ago, I was invited to the home of a student and offered "wine" by his father. Having visions of a good Bordeaux dancing in my head (the family was affluent), I said "Sure," and was rewarded with a full glass of Johnny Walker Black Label. Fortunately, he sent me home in a car, because I could never have managed to get there myself after drinking all that (and I have little recollection of the meal, which must have been excellent).

  21. Gene Anderson said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 10:51 am

    Great comments and insights all. Jiu in early times meant beer or ale, i.e. undistilled grain-based alcoholic drinks. Beer theoretically has hops in it, so I prefer ale. But ale has the wrong literary associations in English, whereas, in traditional Sinology, "wine" was used because it did conjure up images more refined and elite than "ale." Jiu then expanded its meaning to include all alcoholic drinks, and more recently even tinctures (snake jiu, mutton jiu, even tincture of iodine–I've seen it called iodine jiu).
    Wine, vin, vino all focally mean just grape wine but are extended to include other undistilled fruit drinks.
    I've always had trouble translating jiu unless it clearly means a particular kind (whether ale or sorghum whiskey or grape wine or whatever).

  22. Sam said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 12:01 pm

    When I lived in Changsha, Hunan in 2001, the local department store had signs in Chinese and English even though there were almost no English speaking customers. The baijiu aisle (白酒) was translated as "firewater." And I never stopped being amused by it.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 12:43 pm

    From Deven Patel:

    On the Pali terms for intoxication

    Both words (sura and meraya) occur in the fifth precept taken by Buddhists (sura-meraya-majja-pamadatthana verAmaNi sikkhApadam samAdiyAmi). The word sUra is an old Sanskrit word for liquor, perhaps generic, that "incites" a person. The daughter of the Vedic water divinity Varuna — himself an asUra (a chthonic divinity of the Veda, contrasted with the sky gods or Aditya-s) — is named surA and is associated with the Soma of the Veda or the nectar which came from the churning of the ocean in the Puranas. Of course, there are some connections to the fact that "demons" (asUra) also lack the nectar, or amRta, or Soma. Meraya is a Pali form of a word found in epic Sanskrit — maireya. This word, according to the Sushruta Samhita (an old work on Ayurveda), designates a combination of sUra and Asava, which means "a distilled liquor," probably something like a rum containing sugar or molasses. Asava has the sense of "enlivening." So while the distinction being drawn in the Pali precept between sura and meraya is not completely clear, there is a sense that it is referring to distinct types of intoxicants that cloud the mind or a common type of combination word in Indic languages whereby two members of a class are combined to suggest singular idea or activity (beer-whiskey, smoking-drinking).

  24. Charles Antaki said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 1:06 pm

    The Folksmen in A Mighty Wind have some fun with corn wine.

  25. ryan said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 2:25 pm

    Perhaps it's counterintuitive, but in most contexts, wouldn't "a drink" or drinks be the best translation. There are very few contexts where having a drink could lead to confusion over whether the drink involved might be non-alcoholic. The request "I need a drink" can not logically lead to water, milk or ginger ale.

  26. Zeppelin said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 2:45 pm

    German "Wein" technically has the same semantic range as English "wine" — distilled spirits are called Branntwein (burned wine), mead can be called Met or Honigwein, cider is called Apfelwein and so on — but in everyday usage Wein will refer to wine made from grapes, and that's the main association the word evokes. The German Wikipedia article for "Wein" is about grape wine in particular (as is the English one).

  27. Keith said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 3:03 pm

    In the UK, at least, the term "spirits" refers to a distilled alcoholic drink, and this is (I believe) derived from the older technical term "esprit de vin" for the same.

    In French law, the term "vin" refers (IIRR) to the fermented juice of freshly pressed grapes, which excludes the use of juice that has been pressed, concentrated, transported, reconstituted and then fermented (as was the practise among home winemakers in the UK through the '60s, '70s and '80s).

    Also, in the UK the term "wine" is used to refer to a fermented barley liquor of (again, IIRR) around 12%.

  28. David Marjanović said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 3:05 pm

    Sake and its Chinese and Korean counterparts are not only made from grain, but also much stronger in general than wines–can we say sake is "rice vodka" or something similar? (Or that vodka is "potato sake"?)

    That's where the German word Schnaps comes in handy: sake is easily explained as Reisschnaps

    distilled spirits are called Branntwein

    I thought that's specifically brandy, i.e. distilled wine from actual grapes?

    cider is called Apfelwein

    Regionally, yes. Other regions have completely different words for it.

  29. David Marjanović said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 3:08 pm

    Oh, and, I probably agree on translating generic 酒 as "drink".

  30. Zeppelin said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 4:51 pm

    David Marjanović: The definition of Branntwein is "all spirits made by burning (distillation) and their mixtures with more than 15% alcohol", according to Wikipedia, and that's pretty much the usage I'm familiar with. The German Branntwein tax is also levied on vodka, for example.
    I think what you mean is Weinbrand, which is distillate of wine in particular!

  31. James McHugh said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 6:11 pm

    I have similar issues translating Sanskrit surā. The whole story is highly complex but here are some basics: First, many dictionaries and translations are all over the place with this and other words for alcoholic drinks in Sanskrit. It seems that in earlier sources surā was a grain drink, saccharified with malt and possibly fungi, and in fact all recipes for surā one sees are along those lines, the later ones not using malted grains. But an important legal text, the Mānavadharmaśāstra, defines it as threefold, being grain-based, jaggery-based, and madhu-based. Commentators vary with regard to the final term which can be taken as grape wine, a drink made from mahua flowers, or a drink made from honey (and of course "mead" often appeals to Western translators as it evokes ancient drinking and also has a neat etymological connection–even though this is the least common commentarial solution). I do not think Manu here is explaining common usage, but rather he is expanding the nature of an earlier prohibition on surā by including more drinks in the scope of the word (legal literature gets very complicated on the matter of drinks however…). Surā also sometimes has the sense of "intoxicating drink" more generally, the clearer term for that being madya. But to make things even more complex, some second millennium CE medical commentaries understand a common synonym of surā–vāruṇī–to mean palm toddy, thus "identifying" that drink, presumably common for those writers, in early canonical texts. Then if that was not enough confusion, in literary sources words for alcoholic drinks are often used pretty interchangeably. Finally I have a much later text that talks of surā as being made of the element fire, as it burns like oil in a lamp – so that surā was a distilled drink, and this is yet another entirely valid use of the word. So I am not in fact translating surā in my writing, though I might go for "grain drink" or even beer if pushed to do so. Though note that as I understand it one reason for "rice wine" being called "rice wine" in common practice is to do with classification under licensing laws. As for other drinks like maireya those too are also a pretty complicated, but maireya seems above all characterized as a pepper flavored drink (and is far commoner in earlier sources). The book manuscript is coming along well though, and I will give full explanations of everything there!

  32. William Ockham said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 7:24 pm

    The description of the ancient Chinese beverages suggests that the best English translation would be barley wine.

  33. Victor Mair said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 10:51 pm

    From Jing Wen:

    The Egyptian word for beer (henqet) usually written with the beer jar determinative, which is no. W22 in Gardiner's sign list. In inscriptions on tomb walls, it is usually written only with the determinative, a beer jar.

    The beer jar is made of coarse Nile silt and somewhat standard in shape and volume because beer and bread were given to workers as rations. The Old Kingdom ones had a rounded base and the Middle Kingdom and later ones had a flat base.

  34. Victor Mair said,

    August 7, 2016 @ 10:57 pm

    The oracle bone and bronze inscriptional forms for yǒu 酉 ("an ancient vase used in making and storing fermented millet liquors") are almost identical to the beer jar determinative used to represent the Egyptian word for beer (henqet). If anyone wants to see the latter, I will send them an attachment showing what it looks like.

  35. András Róna-Tas said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 2:04 am

    The Old Turkic term for "wine" is bor, which appears also in Mongolian as bor or bor darasun. There exist a long discussion on the origin of the Turkic word which I summarized in West Old Turkic (2011, p.148). According to Bailey (1979:340 and Emmerick–Skjaervö (1982-1985/1, 105-106) it would be the same word as IE *medhu "honey" > Iranian madu. In Sogdian this became mwdy "wine" –> Persian mul. Chinese pútáo is the loan from one of the Iranian forms. Chmielewski in 1958 published an important paper on pútáo and its Iranian origin, the paper appeared in Rocznik Orientalisticzny vol 22/2 7-45. On the same page quoted above, I mentioned an other etymology for Old Turkic bor. I suggested that OT bor may be a loan from Persian bor "dark red" in contrast to the white wine which is cagir. In any case Chinese pútáo may well be an Iranian loanword and originally had the meaning of "honey beer", later lost its connection with it.

  36. J.D. said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 7:14 am

    Sake and its Chinese and Korean counterparts are not only made from grain, but also much stronger in general than wines–can we say sake is "rice vodka" or something similar? (Or that vodka is "potato sake"?)

    Sake is slightly stronger than wine but not that much. The stronger alcoholic beverages that are commonly found in Asian restaurants, such as kaoliang, are usually made from sorghum, not rice, and are closer to vodka than sake in terms of alcohol by volume.

    In French, "vin" alone refers to "grape wine", as mentioned by Fushichô. Otherwise, it's specified, as in "vin de noix" (which also involves "grape wine" actually).

  37. Keith said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 7:31 am

    Coming back to this, after reading William Ockham's comment, I took a look at Wikipedia'a article on barley wine, which mentions "κρίθινος οἶνος". This word "οἶνος" is a cognate of "wine", "vin", "vino", etc, whereas the modern Greek word "κρασί" originally meant "wine mixed with water".

  38. Karen said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 9:04 am

    They are drinking
    They are drinking wine
    They are drinking beer
    They are drinking alcohol
    They are drinking spirits
    They are drinking liquor
    They are drinking booze
    They are boozing

    All of these give very different impressions as to what kind of party is going on. Regardless of just what the precise composition of the drink is in Chinese, translators need to be careful of the impression their Anglophone readers will form. Perhaps saying jiu would be best here, but "wine" could be defended. After all, when you "wine and dine" someone, actual wine may not be around at all.

  39. cameron said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 9:23 am

    It doesn't seem to be linked above, but there was a good discussion about jiu at http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1636 .

  40. languagehat said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 9:35 am

    Perhaps saying jiu would be best here

    So that their Anglophone readers will form no impression at all? This is a counsel of despair. "Wine" is not perfect, but it is far better suited to most contexts than any of the other choices. In particular contexts, of course, more exact translations may be useful.

  41. Giacomo Ponzetto said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 10:37 am

    In Italian for sure, and to my non-native understanding also in other Romance languages, vino is made from fermented grape must. You can call unusual drinks derived from fermenting something else "vino di whatever," but that's usage by extension, which the Treccani dictionary recognizes but also calls "improper" (ha!).

    My subjective impression is that as soon as the drink in question achieves any degree of notoriety it gets its own name. E.g., mead is idromele and sake is sakè. Calling the latter vino di riso is at best old-fashioned. Calling the former vino di miele would be rather confusing to me. You cannot call beer vino d'orzo and expect anyone to understand. It doesn't even work as a translation of "barley wine" for a high-alcohol craft beer—that's left in the original English even if you're talking about it in Italian.

  42. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 10:40 am

    The use of compounds of the form SOMETHING-wine to mean "non-grape-based alcoholic beverage" seems widespread in European languages, even if the basic word for "wine" means "grape-based" when standing alone.*

    An earlier (and less neutral-tasting) form of the Russian spirit now standardly known as vodka had a Slavic name glossed as "bread wine. Genever (the Dutch cognate of "gin") is usually these days a blend of inter alia neutral spirits and "malt wine" (moutwijn). In the specialized dialect of English used by enthusiasts of non-mainstream beer styles, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barley_wine is a term of art, with a much narrower semantic scope than "beverage fermented from barley."

    *NB that traditional Christian practice was hostile to using anything other than grape-based wine as an ingredient for communion services, even as Christianity expanded into places where that was not the usual local tipple and/or was not even produced locally (so wine might need to be imported specifically for liturgical use). That would have been a powerful motive over the centuries in languages native to societies that had been Christianized for keeping up a clear semantic distinction between "real" wine and other alcoholic beverages.

  43. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 10:45 am

    BTW, there has been a 21st century attempt to recreate neolithic Chinese booze, of a form older than literacy (and perhaps older than non-speculative knowledge of what sort of language was spoken). I bought (and consumed) a bottle some years ago, in the spirit of scholarly inquiry. http://www.dogfish.com/brewery/beer/chateau-jiahu

  44. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 10:47 am

    Perhaps VHM is acquainted with "Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology," who provided the brewers with information on the ancient recipe to be recreated?

  45. Victor Mair said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 12:13 pm

    @J.W. Brewer

    Yes, I know Pat McGovern very well. His was one of the first Ph.D. defenses that I participated in after I came to Penn. We rode the same commuter train together for many years after he joined the research staff of the UPenn Museum. Pat is actually mentioned here in the o.p above.
    And we two were featured on the cover and in the first two articles of this issue of the Pennsylavnia Gazette.

  46. Victor Mair said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 12:15 pm


    Thank you very much for mentioning that post. I actually did cite it above in the o.p.

  47. Vardibidian said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 12:51 pm

    Perhaps I missed it, but in English not only is wine (unmodified) made of grapes but wine is proverbially made of grapes. Shakespeare! ( http://www.folgerdigitaltexts.org/?chapter=5&play=Oth&loc=ftln-1049 )

    For those who aren't familiar, to say that someone's wine is made of (or sometimes from) grapes is to say that the person is ordinary, subject to ordinary temptations, etc. I wouldn't call it a common saying, but I wouldn't have said it was altogether obscure. Elvis Costello includes in a lyric "the wine she drinks has never seen a grape"; he is not suggesting that she drinks rice wine.

    Thank you,

  48. Victor Mair said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 1:17 pm

    From Craig Melchert:

    I'm afraid that with my retirement, return to NC and downsizing, I no longer have at hand some of the reference works I used to. The Sumerian word is apparently kaš, which of course is then used as the logogram in Akkadian and Hittite. It's the same sign as "bi", whose ultimate shape is unknown to me, since I long ago gave away my copy of Labat that nicely showed the evolution of the most common cuneiform signs. The Akkadian word is šikaru, on which the CAD has a predictably long entry. It has no obvious inner-Akkadian derivation, and they label it a "Kulturwort" that sometimes indicated any fermented alcoholic beverage. I suspect the best thing is to look up the entry "Bier" in the Reallexikon der Assyriologie. I have no idea what the Egyptian is.

    The Hittite word is si(y)essar, which clearly is one of the productive result noun types in -essar. Tischler in his etymological dictionary cites claims that it belongs to the PIE root that means 'to sieve, filter', which is possible, but the root is otherwise unattested in Hittite. Sara Kimball, pp. 173-5 in the volume Studies in Memory of Warren Cowgill edited by Watkins made what I found at the time compelling arguments that it means 'pressing', to the Hittite verb sai-/siye- that means 'press' (she had arguments based on how beer was made).

  49. Victor Mair said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 1:28 pm

    Once again, I am deeply grateful to all who have participated in this learned, fruitful discussion. The conversation will continue, but for the moment, I should tell my own preferences for how to translate jiǔ 酒 in English. Namely, I join JS in opting for "brew". Next would come "ale". In terms of connotation and denotation, "brew" serves well, and "ale" works too, but its signfication is perhaps a bit too specialized. "Beer" is not too far off in terms of how it's made (though I worry about the hops), but the cultural connotations pertaining to "beer" in modern America do not fit well with jiǔ 酒. In any event, all three — brew, ale, and beer — are closer to jiǔ 酒 than is wine.

  50. JS said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 2:14 pm

    "Brew" is courtesy David McCraw, as within Du Fu's Laments from the South (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992), etc. I suppose depending on context one could take issue with register; "brew" certainly gives an earthier flavor than does "wine". But the rhyme is right: 人無百年壽 (dzyuwX) […] atop the hall fine brew (tsjuwX) :D

  51. lysingur said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 2:37 pm

    "你喝不喝酒?" in Chinese simply means "Do you drink (alcohol)?" where 酒 is understood to mean "alcohol". So the author is right in stating that 酒 ≠ wine. The problem stated in the post has largely been solved by native Chinese speakers who employ the term "洋酒" (occidental alcohol) to mean "wine" whereas 酒 is reserved for either its generic meaning (alcohol) or domestic alcoholic beverages, e.g. 高粱、二鍋頭、茅台, etc.

  52. Dave Cragin said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 5:58 pm

    Interesting discussion: The posts illustrate that for many words, one definition can be widely accepted, yet that same word can still have multiple meanings.

    If asked “what is wine?”, most native English speakers would agree with Fushichô’s French perspective, i.e., they associate it with grapes and think “it’s an alcoholic beverage fermented from grapes” or some equivalent of this.

    Yet, when Tim’s example of “dandelion wine” is offered, native English speakers instantly also know that it is “an alcoholic beverage fermented from dandelions.” In addition, it’s more than just this: we would expect the mouth-feel and flavor contours of the dandelion wine to be “wine-like”, i.e., it wouldn’t be expected to have the bite of whiskey, the carbonation of beer or the sweetness of a liqueur.

    As a Chinese example: Inner Mongolia has 马奶酒 (ma nai jiu) which I learned as “fermented mare’s milk.” (a good example of an alcoholic drink not from grapes or grain).

    Google translates ma nai jiu as “horse milk” and “kumiss/koumis.” However, I expect few people have any idea what kumis/koumis is. Plecu and Ktdict translates it as “kumis” and “horse milk wine” and Bing as “horse milk wine.” However, I think the original translation I received, i.e., “fermented horse milk” is still the best in conveying the idea of the drink, even with the following caveat.

    Because there are many foods that are fermented, but not alcoholic, I’m not sure how many native English speakers would know fermented mare’s milk necessarily contains alcohol. It’s hard for me to judge this because I learned the Chinese word alongside its English translation (I had never heard of or even IMAGINED drinking fermented horse milk before learning the Chinese word). In contrast, the “jiu” of ma nai jiu immediately told me it contains alcohol.

  53. JS said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 6:55 pm

    Similar to Dave's example in some ways: what is meant by mi3jiu3 米酒 in many domestic contexts in China is not at all well-translated as "rice wine" but means rather something like this. In searching for a name for this concoction, I noticed the Wikipedia Mijiu article did point out that "some varieties are of extremely low alcoholic content and consumed by children" and named some typical preparations… call it what you will.

  54. JS said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 7:05 pm

    I decided the answer to my question was "jiuniang", etc. But often called "mijiu".

  55. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 7:20 pm

    I would recommend "kumiss" (or any of a number of spelling variants) as the best English translation of 马奶酒. It's a comparatively obscure word in English precisely because the referent is little-known in English-speaking cultures, although I've known the word and known of the referent (without actually tasting it) ever since I was in elementary school, I believe originally from some book about the exploits of Genghis Khan. There are, I should think, good functional reasons why loanwords, even though semantically opaque, are so commonly used for foodstuffs not previously consumed by Anglophones, and exotic-to-Anglophones beverages present similar issues.

  56. cameron said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 7:22 pm

    All this learned commentary has left me quite convinced that the proper translation of jiu is "hooch".

  57. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 7:39 pm

    Right before Marco Polo's famous description of the medieval Chinese use of coal (not much known in Europe in his day) called (in the old Yule translation freely available online) "Concerning the Black Stones that are Dug in Cathay, and Are Burnt for Fuel," there's a chapter titled "Concerning the Rice-Wine Drunk by the People of Cathay." At least that's what that translator calls the chapter. What Marco Polo himself might have called the beverage in the various languages he knew and how various modern translators into various modern languages have handled that might vary quite a bit.

  58. languagehat said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 7:57 pm

    If you search this 1865 French edition of Marco Polo (aka Marc Pol) for "vin," you get 48 results, e.g. "Et ya moult de vingnes moult belles, dequoy il ont vin à grant habondance. Car en toute la province du Catay ne naist vin, fors que en celle seulement [Taianfu]"; the section "Ci devise du vin que les gens de Catai boivent" begins on p. 343.

  59. Victor Mair said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 8:52 pm

    I drink only very small amounts of hootch, so am far from being a connoisseur of alcoholic beverages, but I do know when they taste good (to me) and when they have high alcohol content (or so they seem to me).

    In a hot Taipei summer, jiǔniàng 酒酿, which my family made themselves and called láozāo 醪糟, was always delicious and refreshing, and it had very low alcohol content.

    Kumiss I knew about already in grade school because I was interested in Mongolia from the time I was a little kid. I also learned that Mongols lived in yurts. Sixty years later, when I spent time among Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Mongols in Central Asia, I had ample opportunity to drink kumiss. It tasted horrible and seemed as though it had high alcohol content. It actually had only a slightly greater amount of alcohol content than jiǔniàng, both around 2%. I also discovered that "yurt" is a Turkic word, whereas the Mongolian word for that type of house is "ger".

  60. Victor Mair said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 8:57 pm

    Another contemporary word for wine in Chinese is hóngjiǔ 红酒, but that means specifically "red wine". Do not think that báijiǔ 白酒 means "white wine"; it means, rather, "spirits". If you want to specify "white wine", it's better to say bái pútáojiǔ 白葡萄酒 (lit., "white grape alcohol").

  61. Victor Mair said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 9:15 pm

    From Jan Nattier:

    It's the same in Sanskrit as it is in Pali — two words (surā and maireya) for types of alcohol/intoxicants, which are usually mentioned together. There may be a bit of information about what they are, though, if the references on this page are correct:


    In addition to these (surā = some kind of strong alcohol, maireya = a type of rum perhaps?), there's also madhu ("mead," honey wine or perhaps wine more generally). Indians did not grow grapes so far as I know, and a hazy memory suggests that grape wine first appears in Buddhist sources from the far northwest (Bactria and/or Sogdiana).

  62. Mark Meckes said,

    August 9, 2016 @ 8:06 am

    Regarding cider/apple wine, I once visited a cidery and spoke to the proprietor, who made a big deal about the distinction between cider and apple wine. Though that may have had more to do with local legal distinctions based on alcohol content than with methods of production.

  63. DMT said,

    August 9, 2016 @ 8:17 am

    My experience of contemporary Taiwanese usage suggest that báijiǔ 白酒 there does in fact usually refer to "white [grape] wine," not the distilled hooch that this word denotes in the PRC. English speakers who are familiar with the latter beverage mostly refer to it as baijiu (with or without tones).

  64. languagehat said,

    August 9, 2016 @ 9:31 am

    Compare the confusion over Russian портвейн [portvein]; while it literally means "port wine" (and even translators who should know better sometimes render it as such in inappropriate contexts), in Soviet times it generally referred to a cheap fortified wine favored by drunks, comparable to US Thunderbird (I don't know what the situation is now). Портвейн 777 was/is a common version.

  65. Victor Mair said,

    August 9, 2016 @ 9:41 am

    This, from a friend, follows seamlessly on what languagehat wrote:

    Had long ago heard that the Eskimos have something like 13 words for snow, mused about an English equivalent, and came up with words for drunk. This Sunday’s NYT crossword puzzle asked for five letters on “grape nuts,” which I think will be “winos.” QED.

  66. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 9, 2016 @ 11:12 am

    California historically produced plenty of super-cheap port wine that was at best a notch or two up from Thunderbird/Ripple/MD20-20. As of a decade or so ago the US gov't finally bought into the notion per some agreement with the EU or something that stuff not actually from Portugal shouldn't be called "port," but the US makers that were using the descriptor before that are grandfathered and don't have to rename their products. I expect nostalgic drunkards who immigrated from the old USSR might find e.g. http://www.liquoroutletwinecellars.com/sku13224.html (only $12 for 1.5 liters @ 18% ABV) similar enough to портвейн for their purposes?

  67. Victor Mair said,

    August 9, 2016 @ 1:32 pm

    From Pat McGovern:

    It sounds like you're really pursuing the linguistic connections of "beer" now. I'm afraid this is outside my area of expertise, so I can only suggest a few ideas. Henket is the Egyptian word, kaş is Sumerian (the jar-sign), šikaru in Akkadian (usually translated as made from palm dates rather than a cereal in Iron Age times). I’ve asked Jean Turfa about “beer” in Etruscan—no term as yet identified. None in the early Minoan texts, to my knowledge. The Hebrew Bible appears to lack a word for beer, unless it’s šekar, which is usually translated as “strong drink” (see my discussion in Ancient Wine, pp. 235-36).

    We have not done any analyses of Tang Dynasty vessels, so have not yet tried re-creating one. I prefer the term “extreme fermented beverage” for those that combine multiple ingredients, such as the Jiahu Neolithic drink. If only a cereal is used, then “beer” is the right designation. But with craft brewing experimentation now extending out in all directions, it probably won’t be long before “beer” encompasses much more than cereal fermentables.

  68. Victor Mair said,

    August 9, 2016 @ 1:36 pm

    The šikaru in Akkadian and the šekar of the Hebrew Bible mentioned by Pat McGovern must be cognates in Semitic. I wonder if they have reflexes in Arabic, Ugaritic, Phoenician, and other related languages.

  69. Victor Mair said,

    August 9, 2016 @ 2:09 pm

    From Philip Jones:

    In Akkadian they would write it syllabically or logographically using the same sign (KAŠ) that writes the word in Sumerian.

  70. Jichang Lulu said,

    August 9, 2016 @ 3:51 pm

    I agree with DMT above: baijiu 白酒 can mean 'white wine' (made from grapes) in Taiwanese usage. I don't know what would be a Taiwan equivalent for the Mainland sense of baijiu ('grain spirits'). Taiwan (or the part of Fujian province under ROC control) does produce some fine baijiu though: Kinmen Kaoliang 金門高粱酒.

  71. Philip Anderson said,

    August 9, 2016 @ 5:21 pm

    I believe that Hebrew šekar was the origin of the word cider (via Greek, Latin and French).
    In the UK, cider is always alcoholic and never wine; Apple-wine is possible but quite different. Wine by itself means from grapes ("British wine" was neither British nor wine), but fruit and vegetable wines and other so-called wines are wine-like, not only in strength but also in measure size and can be drunk in a wineglass, unlike beer/cider/perry.
    For translation, wine seems fine for poetry if it has the right connotations, or barley wine to be more accurate.

  72. Victor Mair said,

    August 9, 2016 @ 5:40 pm

    From John Huehnergard, who notes, "I haven't consulted any of the copious books and articles on beer, wine, etc., in the Ancient Near East, so caveat lector":

    Akkadian šikaru, Hebrew šēkār, Aramaic šikrā/šakrā are probably cognates; the forms are the expected developments from a Proto-Semitic *sikar-. It is also possible that the Hebrew and Aramaic are loans from Akkadian, however. (Arabic sakar is probably a loan from Aramaic.) The Akkadian word is attested already in the 3rd millennium; it usually means beer made from barley (without hops); occasionally in late (first-millennium) texts it also signifies a beverage made of dates or figs. (The corresponding word in Sumerian, kaš, is also usually barley beer; the cuneiform sign for kaš was originally a drawing of a jar.) Aramaic ši/akrā, according to the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon (http://cal1.cn.huc.edu) is "any intoxicating beverage not made from grapes, typically from grain or dates.” Hebrew šēkār, as noted in one post, is often rendered simply “strong drink”; Harvard archaeologist Lawrence Stager discovered installations at the site of Ashkelon (first millennium BCE) that may have been for distilling, and has suggested that šēkār may have been something like grappa. There is a Semitic verb with the same root consonants, *s-k-r, that means ‘to be(come) drunk’; it is found in most West Semitic languages, but only rarely and relatively late in Akkadian. It seems likely that the noun and the verbal root are related (though the Akkadian dictionaries seem reluctant to connect them). English cider &lt French &lt Latin &lt Greek sikera is ultimately from this Semitic root.

    For ‘(grape) wine’, Akkadian has karānu, which also means ‘grapevine’ and ‘grapes’ and is presumably related to West Semitic *karm- ‘vineyard’ (although the m~n alternation is odd, and the nominal patterns are different). The West Semitic words for ‘wine’ itself, however, are (1) *ḫamr- (Ugaritic, Aramaic, Arabic; rarely in Biblical Hebrew), connected with a root meaning ‘to ferment’; and (2) *wayn- (> Hebrew yáyin, Ugaritic yn, Ethiopic wayn), obviously connected to the I-E words and presumably an early loan. There is a lot of bibliography …, e.g., Carey Walsh, The Fruit of the Vine: Viticulture in Ancient Israel.

  73. Victor Mair said,

    August 9, 2016 @ 7:36 pm

    Old Sinitic reconstructions for jiǔ 酒:

    Baxter-Sagart /*tsuʔ/

    Zhengzhang /*ʔsluʔ/

    Schuessler /*tsiu, *tsiuʔ/

  74. Victor Mair said,

    August 9, 2016 @ 11:46 pm

    A relevant post by ML: "Two brews" (2/6/10)

  75. Victor Mair said,

    August 10, 2016 @ 9:50 am

    CFP 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies (May 11–14, 2017), Kalamazoo: The Craft (Beer) of Medievalism: Popular Culture, the Middle Ages, and Contemporary Brewing (A Roundtable)

    According to the Brewers Association, an industry advocacy group, American craft brewing is a rapidly growing $22.3 billion market. As a visit to any store specializing in small-scale beer will affirm, medieval imagery and ideas are frequently invoked in the marketing and conceptions of such beer. This roundtable will explore the multi-faceted intersection of medievalism and the craft beer movement. Short papers may focus on claims to authenticity, heritage, and craftsmanship; the links among craft beer, medievalism, and specific discourses of national or ethnic identity; the use of medieval imagery in labeling and package design; the invocation of the Middle Ages in advertising and special events like beer festivals; or the place of historical recreation and reenactment in craft brewing. We expect panelists will approach the topic through the broad frame of medievalism in popular culture, as explored in recent works like David Matthew’s Medievalism: A Critical History and Louise D’Arcens Comic Medievalism: Laughing at the Middle Ages. By taking up the topic of craft beer, this roundtable specifically seeks to situate medievalism in a discourse of consumption that falls somewhere between passive spectatorship and more active modes of historical reenactment, and thus to make a new contribution to the study of medievalism in contemporary culture.

    Questions, queries, and 200-word abstracts to Megan Cook at mlcook@colby.edu by August 31.

  76. Victor Mair said,

    August 10, 2016 @ 10:08 am

    From James McHugh, who is writing a book on the history of alcoholic beverages in India, with an eye open to the rest of Eurasia:

    Baijiu is the strangest drink I have ever tasted, an incredible process of complex fermentation reactions to make the most crazy flavor molecules going. This recent book about the modern baijiu scene is pretty fun.

  77. Jichang Lulu said,

    August 10, 2016 @ 5:31 pm

    Besides mildly alcoholic kumiss (Mongolian ᠠᠶᠢᠷᠠᠭ ayiraɣ айраг), two types of milk booze are (industrially) produced in Inner Mongolia. One is fermented and typically around 16% alcohol. The other one is distilled, usually between 30% and 40% but can get to 50% and beyond. The fermented ones I tried were all made from mare's milk; the distilled ones are more often from cow's milk. Quality varies a lot. Some taste like cheap 二锅头 erguotou with milk powder, but the better ones are quite interesting.

    At least the distilled version can be called ᠰᠠᠭᠠᠯᠢ ᠶᠢᠨ ᠠᠷᠢᠬᠢ saɣali-yin ariki саалийн архи (I think this name is common only in Inner Mongolia) or ᠰᠢᠮ᠎ᠡ ᠶᠢᠨ ᠠᠷᠢᠬᠢ sim_e-yin ariki шимийн архи. Both names mean roughly 'dairy spirits'. ᠮᠣᠩᠭᠣᠯ ᠠᠷᠢᠬᠢ mongɣol ariki монгол архи 'Mongolian spirits' is another possibility. ᠠᠷᠢᠬᠢ ariki архи itself has an interesting semantic range, though apparently more restricted than 酒 jiǔ. At least for some, I'm told, the default meaning of ᠠᠷᠢᠬᠢ ariki архи is the kind made from milk: other distilled drinks are also arkhi ('white arkhi' = vodka), but wine, ayrag and beer ('yellow ayrag') are not.

  78. Chris Button said,

    August 11, 2016 @ 9:47 am

    Regarding the Old Chinese reconstructions cited by Victor above, the issue they are wrestling with is reconciling the initial of 酉 with that of 酒. A direct reconstruction back from Middle Chinese without any prefixes or the like for 酉 suggests a liquid "r" or "l", while 酒 suggests an affricate "ts".

    – Zhengzhang seems to be trying to maintain a rhotic initial from 酉 in 酒 by reconstructing 酒 as *ʔsluʔ

    – Schuessler suggests that the lack of initial j- in OC is due to it merging completely with l- and tries to establish a correspondence between the initials of *juʔ (which would have merged with *luʔ) in 酉 and *tsiuʔ in 酒

    – Baxter and Sagart don't seem to address the issue by just reconstructing the separate forms of *N-ruʔ (the N- prefix making the r- develop like l-) for 酉 and *tsuʔ for 酒.

  79. Victor Mair said,

    August 11, 2016 @ 11:27 am

    From Don Ringe:

    Siessar is clearly a Hittite creation–nothing like it elsewhere in IE. That's not surprising, considering that beer was widespread in the eastern Mediterranean (e.g. in Egypt), while most of the older IE languages attested further north have words for alcoholic beverages that have cognates meaning 'honey' or 'sweet'–it looks very much like mead was all they knew. (Wine is clearly Mediterranean too, and in that case even the name is a widespread loanword.)

  80. Chris Button said,

    August 11, 2016 @ 11:38 am

    The word "mead" of course itself coming from the same source as the Chinese word for honey 蜜 which was an Indo-European loanword.

  81. Victor Mair said,

    August 11, 2016 @ 12:01 pm

    From Doug Adams, commenting on Tocharian words:

    'Beer' would appear to have been wa"ssok where the second syllable might be *tsok (i.e., *wa"s-tsok) and related to the word for drink (tsuk-), but that seems quite speculative.

    "Wine" appears to have been kun~i-mot 'grape alcohol', where the first part of the compound is borrowed from Khotanese gurnai 'grape.' Mot by itself may also have denoted 'wine.' It is usually takent o be a loanword from some Iranian source and ultimately from PIE *medhu. I think it quite possible though that it is inherited from a vrddhied derivative, *meedhwom.

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