Occitan and Oenology

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[This is a guest post by François Lang]

Picpoul (AKA Piquepoul, or Picapoll) is a white wine grape best known in the south of France.  The grape is known for its intense acidity, and many wine references claim that its name derives from the Occitan for "lip stinger". But I can't find any justification for this derivation, at least not in online Occitan dictionaries that I've consulted.
Occitan picapol is indeed the name of the grape in question
Pique clearly means "sting", as in modern French piquer and piqûre, but I don't see any link between poul and lip.
"Lip" in Occitan is labia, lavia.
Occitan pọl == Fr poule (hen, chicken)
No entry in the dictionary for poul

The other online French/Occitan dictionary that I consulted doesn't suggest that poul has any connection with "lip"
So I wonder if piquepoul might actually mean something more like "hen-pecked"?!
Do any Language Log historical/Romance linguists want to weigh in?
Selected readings


  1. DaveK said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 9:24 pm

    A stinging wine that pairs well with chicken?

  2. Martin Schwartz said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 10:47 pm

    Classical Persian poetry rhymes gol 'rose. flower', bolbol 'nightingale'
    and mol 'wine' (the latter a loanword from the Bactrian outcome of PIE *medhu-).
    Had e.g. Hafez been to Langue d'Oc, he might have added picapol.
    Martin Schwartz

  3. Quim said,

    October 9, 2023 @ 2:28 am

    The Catalan wikipedia page Picapoll claims that the name comes the small dark spots on the light-skinned version.

    This grape variety is grown not only in Languedoc but also in some Catalan regions, notably in the Bages area, where it has even been considered a sort of a local symbol. A notable writer, Josep Maria de Sagarra, mentioned it in a poem (ca. 1925) describing the grape harvest:

    Els ditets de la minyona
    saben bellugar el falçó,
    quan la vinya se n’adona
    tota tremola de por;
    picapoll, pansa rodona,
    vinet de la il·lusió.

    Since Catalan and Occitan are so closely related, it is possibly difficult to determine in which language the "picapoll" word originated. In Catalan, poll means both young chicken and also louse. So, picapoll might refer to louse bite or chicken bite, as if one of those animals had biten the grapes leaving the characteristic dark spots.

    Of course that seems to be a popular etymology, so take it with as many grains of salt as appropriate.

  4. Peter Taylor said,

    October 9, 2023 @ 3:00 am

    The Catalan Wikipedia page for the variety (picapoll) claims that the name comes from it having a pitted skin (pell), although no evidence is offered to substantiate this claim.

    Somewhat more speculatively, and noting that one of the many synonyms is picapolla, I observe that that is a morphologically unexceptional way of naming an object which stings the virile member in Catalan, although to Bowdlerise said member to lip would be somewhat more remarkable. I'm unsure whether the informal term polla (or perhaps an equivalent Occitan word) goes back far enough to antedate the earliest French usage of pique-poule.

    On that subject, Ortolang dates it to 1600 with the spelling pique-poule, and the Occitan piquapol to the 1520s. The far more interesting pique-pouille (poverty-stinger) is also, sadly, much more recent (1869).

  5. Quim said,

    October 9, 2023 @ 3:41 am

    According to the Catalan Wikipedia, the name comes from some dark spots on the light-skinned variety. So yes, hen-pecked that would be (or maybe lice-bitten, because poll can mean louse too!)

    I guess this is just a popular etymology though.

  6. david said,

    October 9, 2023 @ 5:39 am

    I wonder if picapol could be French/Occitan for pico de gallo, as in the Mexican salsa piquante.

  7. Counterbander said,

    October 9, 2023 @ 1:25 pm

    Occitan pòt means lip. Why the t, versus l? Here's an idea. Occitan picapoll, as cited by Quim, suggests long l, where poll perhaps derives from Latin potilis, a drinking vessel, with tl simplification common in Occitan e.g. espala (shoulder). And then pòt resolves tl differently.

  8. ardj said,

    October 9, 2023 @ 3:03 pm

    The various suggestions for a derivation of Picpoul and orthographic variants are unconvincing. The local tradition fostered in Pinet (Picpoul producing AOC of Hérault in France, around Mèze, Castelnau de Guers and the Etang de Thau) tends to the chickens scavenging up the grapes from branches which trail on the ground; and several vignobles, including for instance the excellent Domaine la Grangette, have incorporated a chicken reference in some form – one of La Grangette's cuvées is called Poule de Pic. But it is unconvincing: apart from anything else, the grower would wish to keep the chicken far hence, rather than let it near his grapes.

    The more advanced chicken suggestion offered by Quim, that the chicken pecking produced dark spots on the grape seems nonsense. Why a chicken should take a mere stab at a grape is unclear, and from what I have seen of chicken bites, they would tend to tear a grape in shreds – not to mention that, despite the Catalan Wikipedia, Picpoul blanc is not particularly given to dark spots on the grapes., still less to having a pitted skin, whatever that might look like.

    Some sites – mainly, I regret to say, US – have the notion that the name suggests that the lip of the drinker has been bitten or stung by the acidity of the wine. I am afraid my experiencesof organoleptic and other physical sensations of discomfort from drinking, before we move into the fiercer pimento cocktails or outright drunkenness, were through carelessness in the chemistry lab at school. I have never met an alcoholic drink which, so to speak, "bit" one (though there was an Israeli concoction whose name escapes me, along the lines of extreme wormwood, which is à déconseiller).

    Picpoul – at least the sort I know, I cannot speak to what they make in Bages (and my pur et sang Catalan consultant is out of the country)
    – Picpoul de Pinet is not a competitor to Chablis or the great Burgundies. It is like a more engaging Bourgogne Aligoté and perhaps comparable with some of the more delectable Sauvignons de Touraine. It is a fairly light-bodied, agreeable wine, with tones of e.g. lemon or apple and scent of hawthorn or lime (tilleul, not the lemony sort). It goes splendidly with the sea food of my part of the world, the oysters from Bouzigues, the mussels (fresh or farcies à la Sétoise, for instance, or with beurre d'escargot) – and palourdes, bulots, escargots, a fine piece of lotte (baudroie) or, for more monkfish, a bourride with rouille de Sète. You would not want a heavier wine, as you take your ease beside the river, the port or the étang.

    Oh, and a final suggestion, that picpol is the ancient Occitan name for the côteaux, the little hills of Languedoc themselves. While Picpoul is grown on the versants, the slopes of the (very low) hills around the Etang de Thau (nothing like the sheer face of the Massif Central rising above my house or the Cirque du bout du monde), I have yet to find a dictionary which confirms this description. I fear that the origin of the name Picpoul is lost in the mists of thingy.

    Turning to the little ditty by de Sagarra, he refers to the sweetness of the wine and to its purple colour, which suggest that perhaps he is drinking the red version of Picpoul, which I don't really know. But his enthusiasm for one more swig or perhaps gulp from the porrón is infectious.

  9. Quim said,

    October 11, 2023 @ 4:33 am

    After a trip to the library I have an additional fantastic explanation to add. The comprehensive and usually authoritative J. Coromines, "Diccionari Etimològic i Complementari de la Llengua Catalana" has the following to say:

    Picapoll `raïm de mena més petita, més primerenc i menys ensucrat que el moscatell, amb el qual forma principal contrast en català central' ja en Eiximenis "los grans de rahim guaytavan per entremitj de les fulles: per assí'l moscatell, per allà la foscha garnacha, lo verdós picapoll, la blanca malvasia"; en el reusenc Martí i Folguera (1875, Lo caragirat, 78); a l'Empordà picapolla: "llargues tòries i ufanosos pàmpols, on comencen a verolar els moscats, les garnatxes i picapolles", Coromines (Vida Austera).
    Formació imperativa pica poll! (metafòricament dit al qui corre per la vinya picotejant-hi, igual que un pollet o gallina, ací i allà: com sigui que els vinyaters es mostren fàcils amb la quitxalla, i els veïns no tan xics, però més llaminers, que se'ls fiquen per les vinyes del barat picapoll, però empaiten a garrotades els qui els afanen el ben pagat moscatell). Altrament la mateixa denominació és també occitana llgd. picopoul "sorte de raisin noir" (a Castras: Couzinié), gascó picapoût (Palay).

    My translation of the relevant part (in addition to it being attested already in Eiximenis, fourteenth century):
    Imperative formation: "peck some, you chicken" (said metaphorically to them who wander through the vineyard picking and eating grapes, just like a chicken or hen, here and there: be as it may that vintners go easy on children, and also not so young neighbors, when found in vineyards of cheap picapoll, but they go after those who dare steal them some expensive moscatell -muscat- and hit them with clubs). On the other hand the same name is also occitan; languedoc: picopoul "sorte de raisin noir" (in Castras: Couzinié); gascon: picapoût (Palay).

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