Wednesday, 18 July 2012

A Good Vintage . . .


Vintage is a word that has been hijacked over the years – we hear of vintage fashion, vintage cars, vintage jewellery . . . but it's original meaning relates to wine. The word initially meant a 'harvest of grapes / yield of wine from a vineyard' and its root are the Latin vinum (wine) and demere (remove). The British hijacked the French word 'vendage' (grape harvest) and anglicised it to 'vintage' back in the 1400s. British links with France were strong at this time – England had owned half of Medieval France under the Angevin Empire and our monarchies were intertwined. The British drank claret and naturally French words became integrated with our own.

Around 1746 the sense of the word shifted to mean 'the age or year of a particular wine.' This isn't surprising as back in the late 1600s we had started to recognise that good wine came from certain vineyards - the diarist Samuel Pepys wrote about the wine 'Ho-Bryan' (Chateau Haut Brion). As wine making techniques improved and developed it seems a natural progression that we should start recognising a wine from a good year too!

It wasn't till 1883 that the word vintage began to be used to refer to items as 'being of an earlier time' but it wasn't until 1928 that we started calling old cars 'vintage'! Since then it seems 'vintage' hasn't looked back and you can find it applied to anything and everything.

Vintage isn't the only French word associated with wine that we have hijacked – 'claret' is the anglicised form of clairet (the original deep coloured rosé wine from Bordeaux made centuries ago). The word 'ton' comes from the French word 'tonneaux' – there was so much wine shipped across the Channel from France to England in the 1500s that the weight of a ship's cargo became measured by the number of wine barrels (tonneaux) it could hold - giving rise to our word 'ton.

Incidentally we can also thank claret for our word 'butler'. In the 17th century claret was not sold in bottles, as corks had not yet been developed, and was sold by the cask. The customer would have the wine decanted into suitable quantities into his own bottles for service and the more fashionable amongst them would have their crests embossed on their bottles. The person who decanted the wine was known as the “bottler” who became , in time, the 'butler.

If you can think of any other wine related words we have hijacked please let me know!

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