Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Today's Word: Punch

Today's word will liven the spirits!

It's ripe with debate and I'll leave it to my readers to make up their minds as to where the truth lies!

'Punch' can mean two very different things that, in excess, can produce the exact same result!

A punch can be either a physical act of aggression, or an alcoholic concoction. If you are on the receiving end of either, disorientation is likely!

Let's take the first meaning - the act of striking a person with a fist. Coming from the Middle English 'puncheon', which in turn comes from the Old French 'poincon' which means to pierce with a tool (and in fact can refer to the tool itself, as can the ancestor in question).

It's a pretty direct lineage: A tool used to emboss or pierce - the action of that tool - the action in general of striking something with force.

So, let's turn to the next meaning; the alcoholic brew.

Here, my friends is where the history gets rich.

At one time, and more recently than we often care to admit, the world was not such a connected place! International trade was the domain of the adventurer - and often, the pirate! Simple spices - salt and pepper - were so rare in some parts of the world that wars were fought and lives were lost for them. The trade route between England and India was ripe with danger - and was a mixing of cultures that still shapes much of our world today!

Rum-soaked sailors brought back tales of an exotic Indian drink named 'panch'!

The Hindi word for the number five is 'panc'. It comes from Sanskritt 'panca'. It was also used to describe this now-famous drink because the drink was made from five essential elements: Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Weak and Strong.

Limes and lemons provided the Sour - and often the Bitter by way of the rind. Sometimes the Bitter came from black tea.

The Weak and Strong were different types of alcohol, often a beer or ale served as the Weak half. In India, 'Arrack' is a common moonshine distilled from a mash of rice, molasses, and palm fruits - it is a cousin of modern rum - and was the Strong of choice.

So from five ingredients, comes a beverage that can knock you out!

In fact, one can imagine a scene where one sailor drunkenly orders a round of punch for his mates aninadvertentlyly slights a nearby pirate who offers our unfortunate sailor a 'punch' with five very different ingredients - meaning a fist!

For as long as there have been bars and patrons, there have been bar fights!

Scholars have long debated the direction of the flow of meaning. Sanskrit is an old language, far older than England. And yet, there is plenty of evidence that the beverage was popular in England as early as the 15th century. Of course, there is also quite a long history of the British appropriating things from other cultures and claiming them as their own!

Regardless of which punch you favor, remember that moderation is important in all aspects of life!


(A special thanks to all of my readers who have inquired about my extended - and unintended - absence. I'm feeling much better! Some wounds never fully heal, and I'm afraid that from time to time, I need to focus on my health. Thanks for your enthusiasm and concerns!)


Blogger fdfs said...

Another enlightening post! Safire has nothing on you!

7:02 AM  

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