Fun with the OED

May 28, 2007

We do a lot of word blogging around here, but our posts mostly stick to definitions and etymologies. They’ll still be plenty of that, but tonight, we’re going to focus on some of the great quotes in the OED, which, come to think of it, is really what makes the OED so great in the first place. And since we’re going to be looking at quotes, we should pick a word whose essence has stimulated countless writers, a word whose very use inspires the world around to alight in poetic flames, and dance ‘neath the embers: Whiskey (or, Whisky).

The word comes from the Gaelic uisgebeatha literally meaning, “water of life.” The original English version of the word was “whiskybae” which is much closer to the Gaelic than our current form. Whisky should not be confused with “Whisky n-2” which was a type of 19th century one-horse carriage, and was in turn derived from the verb “whisk.” A good way to remember the difference is to remind yourself that if you have to much whisky you wont be able to drive your whisky. At least, that’s how I remind myself when I drunkenly time-travel.

Most of the quotes in the straight whiskey section [I won’t comment on my great pun; instead, a note: my spelling of whiskey is inconsistent, sometimes using the English form “whisky” and others the American “whiskey.” A distinction is also sometimes made between Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey. Spelling-wise, I find myself torn between my love of Queen and Country.] simply define what Whiskey is. The real beauty comes in figurative language.

Here’s a good Chandler simile: “Farewell my Lovely xiii. 82 She wore a hat with a crown the size of a *whisky glass.”

Or a nice little piece from Saul Bellow: Dangling Man 179 ‘Took you in it at last, didn’t I!’ I exclaimed. ‘You damned old *whisky-head.’

The best of the lot (as a Whiskey-ographer, not author) is probably Graham Greene: Lawless Roads vi. 161 ‘He was just what we call a *whisky priest.’.. He had taken one of his sons to be baptized, but the priest was drunk.”

Sadly there are no great quotes for “whiskey-v”, “to supply with whisky, to give a drink of whisky to.” Even more surprising is the fact that the verb is only transitive. Can I only whisky others? It would seem propriety has the last laugh in the whiskey world.