Preternatural Delusions

joi, ianuarie 02, 2003


Etymology of ale



I have found an interesting explanation in Linda & Roger Flavell's The Cover :

A Germanic root, alut-, gave rise to the Old English ealu, 'ale', and related words in Scandinavian languages. The Old English word beor, 'beer', also existed and sprang from an unidentified Germanic root from which German and Dutch also derived their words for beer. In medieval England the two words were synonymous, although ale was much more commonly used, beer beign reserved for more formal poetic contexts. In the Middle Ages wood sage, alecost and ground-ivy (alehoof) were used to preserve and flavour ale but in the sixteenth century Flemish immigrants introduced the practice of adding hops to malted grain and this drink was called beer to distinguish it from ale. In his Dyetary (1542) Andrew Boorde describes the brew and laments the harmful effects of its popularity : Bere is made of malte, of hoppes, and water: it is a naturall drynke for a Dutche man. And nowe of late dayes it is moche used in Englande to the detryment of many Englysshe men.

But just under a century later in John Gerard's revised Herbal (1633) beer is found to be a nourishing beverage : The manifold virtues of Hops so manifestly argue the wholesomeness of beer above ale: for the hops rather make it a physical drink to keep the body in health, than an ordinary drink for the quenching of our thirst.


In the Middle Ages and through the seventeenth century, ale was not only a drink but a term given to a festivity where ale was drunk. Sometimes this was a family occasion such as a wedding (bride ale) or funeral (dirge ale). Often an ale would be held on a saint's day or Christian festival (Whitsun ale) to benefit church funds. The congregation would donate malt, from which the church wardens brewed ale to sell back to them at the celebration. Or an ale might mark out the agricultural or working year (lamb ale, scythale). There were sometimes at the expense of the lord of the manor but often peasants were ordered to contribute malt and then forced to but the brew (L F Saltzman, English Life in the Middle Ages, 1926). Whatever the excuse for the ale, it was generally marked by revelry and drunkenness.



Quite interesting, innit ?

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