How Did Whiskey Get Its Name?

Posted on 07 Aug 2017 00:21

If you ask a whiskey aficionado "what is whiskey" the answer may be more than you expect. We have straight whiskey, Scotch, Irish, and Tenessee whiskey. Then we have Bourbon and Rye. Those are whiskey, too. And what about blended whiskey as opposed to straight? And Canadian Club? Is that whiskey? Or is it whisky?

The simple answer was decided long ago. All of the above (and then some) are whiskey, or whisky, if you prefer. The distinctions are many, such as the predominant grain used. But, if you hear someone differentiating bourbon or rye from whiskey, well, they are just plain wrong.

We Americans, the Irish, and the French all use the spelling 'whiskey.' The English, Scotts, and Germans all use 'whisky.'

Origin of the Word Whiskey

The word whiskey was first recorded in print in 1715.

Like many or our words, whiskey began with Latin. Water of life, in Latin, was acquavitaeis. This became acqua vitae in French.

In Gaelic, the Latin term became uisge beatha. From there came the word usquebaugh. In Irish, this was uisce beatha, or just uisci. Then, it was a hop, skip, and a jump to our modern word.

In case you didn't notice, the part of the original word that became our modern word whisky was uisge or uisce (usici), which means that our word for the most flavorful of alcoholic beverages comes from a word that simply means water.

For more, see the related article what is a liqueur.

1. Hendrickson, Robert. Talking Turkey: a Food Lover's Guide to the Origins of Culinary Words and Phrases. Skyhorse Publishing, 2014.
2. Troy, Eric. “What Is a Liqueur?” What Is a Liqueur? -, Culinary Lore,
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