Etymology Trivia

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So, the year is 600 BCE and you walk into a bar in the Achaemenid Empire or Athens or Britannia or Delhi or Germania or pretty much anywhere that speaks a language in the Indo-European Language Family and you order a glass of Mead…

This is either the setup of a really, really bad joke, or great linguistics lecture… maybe both.

It’s interesting because it appears that you really could walk into a pub in almost any of these places and ask for “Med” or “Medu” and be handed a glass of mead. The word for this heavenly beverage has apparently gone nearly unchanged for 4500 years in the Indo-European world…

This language family includes Hindi, English, German, Greek, Yiddish, Bulgarian, and Polish to name but a few, and if there’s anything I want to be able to ask for in India, Britain, Germany, Greece, my Nana’s House, Bulgaria or Poland, it’s a glass of mead.

Now, the word Mead was not above a few standard applications of Grimm’s Law, so it became “Meth-” in parts of the world and the root “Mel-” in others, but this just serves to expand our repertoire of great words related to honey and mead!

Methyl alcohol can trace its roots through the Greek word for wine right back to mead.

The name Melissa means one who is sweet like honey.

Mellifluous is anything that has a smooth, sweet flow (literally meaning honey + fluent).

Caramel even has its root in honey, though exactly how is a bit fuzzy.

Oddly enough, amethyst (the stone) comes in a roundabout way from mead because the ancient world had the strange notion that this particular stone, when worn against the skin, served to prevent drunkenness. In extensive testing at Groennfell Meadery in triple blinded tests, we have conclusively proven this to be false.

Unfortunately the root “Mel-” also means a lot of other things, so the word “ameliorate” does not mean to “make more mead like” which is a damn shame, and also reminds me of the punch line to that joke…

So a guy walks into a bar in 12th Century BCE Hattusa and says to the bartender, “Hey, got mead?” The bartender looks confused. So he gets it by pointing to the jug. It’s so good he wants another glass, so he yells “Mead! I want another mead.” At which point he receives an aged prostitute. (You see, the bartender heard, “mihyahwan annas mead” which means “get me an old mother” in Nesite, the language of the Hittite Empire.) 


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