Ancient Word of the Day: Uiscebeatha

Ancient Word of the Day: Uiscebeatha

Uisgebeatha: n Irish Gaelic uisce “water”, and bethu “life” or Water of Life. Another variation is the Scots Gaelic Uisge beatha. Pronounced Ish-ka ba-ha.

This was a Gaelic name given by Irish and Scottish monks in the early Middle Ages to describe distilled alcohol. It’s a translation of the Latin aqua vitae ‘water of life‘.

When this word first appeared in English in the 1500’s, it still retained its Gaelic origins and was spelt usquebaugh.

Uisgebeatha/Uiscebeatha was later corrupted and anglicised to become whiskey.

How to pronounce Uiscebeatha

Does whiskey (aqua vitae/uiscebeatha) originate from Ireland or Scotland?

It is recorded throughout the medieval period as aqua vitae. It seems there is a record that dates Irish Whiskey as being older than Scotch Whiskey, but only only a few decades.

“Richard Magrannell Chieftain of Moyntyreolas died at Christmas by taking a surfeit of aqua vitae. Mine author sayeth that it was not aqua vitae to him but aqua mortis.” ~ Annals of Clonmacnoise Ireland 1405 AD.

“To Friar John Cor, by order of the King, to make aqua vitae, VII bolls of malt” ~ The Scottish Exchequer Rollls, 1495 AD.

The king referenced here was King James IV of Scotland. And ‘eight bolts of malt’ refers to 48 bushels or around 400 gallons of whiskey!

An abbey cellarer testing his wine. Illumination from a copy of Li livres dou santé by Aldobrandino of Siena. British Library manuscript Sloane 2435, f. 44v.

References

Uiscebeatha: Wikipedia

The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities : A Yearbook of Forgotten Words by Paul Anthony Jones

A History of Pious Drinking

It’s true whiskey originated from Ireland

An abbey cellarer testing his wine. Illumination from a copy of Li livres dou santé by Aldobrandino of Siena. British Library manuscript Sloane 2435, f. 44v.
An abbey cellarer testing his wine. Illumination from a copy of Li livres dou santé by Aldobrandino of Siena. British Library manuscript Sloane 2435, f. 44v.

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