Three sips of “water”

Spanish and English haven’t taken many words from Russian, but both languages have borrowed vodka from it. The -ka is a diminutive ending like (but not etymologically related to) Spanish -ita, and the word to which that ending has been added is vodá, which means ‘water.’ The resulting vodka, or ‘a bit of water,’ is a euphemism for a liquid that may look like water but that carries a stronger punch.

The Indo-European root underlying Russian vodá is *wed-, which also gave rise to native English wet and water, both of which were meanings of the original root. A suffixed form of the Indo-European root produced Gaelic uisge, which has become another euphemistic name for an alcoholic beverage. English renders the word whiskey; Spanish in turn has borrowed the word from English.

The German cognate of water is Wasser (German capitalizes its nouns, as English used to), which appears in the compound Kirschwasser ‘cherry water.’ Like vodkaKirschwasser, often shortened to Kirsch, is yet another clear alcoholic drink, specifically a cherry-flavored brandy.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sara0902
    May 22, 2012 @ 05:49:45

    Reblogged this on theBabbleofBabel and commented:
    Just a bit of water…

    Reply

  2. shoreacres
    May 22, 2012 @ 20:55:07

    Interesting about the diminutive ending, -ka. That gives a new slant to several words in English: babushka, chachka, and so on.

    Reply

  3. A
    Jun 01, 2012 @ 22:19:28

    This reminds me of Sanskrit udaka, also “water.” It’s certainly a cognate to “vodka” (and Sanskrit ka is also a diminutive suffix) but because of the a (perhaps from a laryngeal?) I can’t tell if the two words are morphologically parallel.

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jun 01, 2012 @ 22:39:24

      Thanks for your speculation. I’m afraid I know almost nothing about Sanskrit, but I’ll bet you could find a professor of Sanskrit who would be able to tell you whether you’re right.

      Reply

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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