Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2015-05-30
Aqua vītae, eau-de-vie, akvavit, and uisce beatha are different manifestations of the “water of life”, or firewater. At least I thought it was that simple, until an Italian friend explained to me that the proper name is “acqua vite”, in Italian, for “grape water”. Vite means ‘screw’ in that language, in reference to the grape vine, from the circumnutating form taken by the vine’s tendrils looking for purchase. I tried to find which was the original and which the eggcorn, or folk etymology, but different sources contradict each other. The following are some of the sources that turned up, starting with a 16th century book, , that also provides a tranlsation of “acqua vite” to “spirit of wine”.
394 Modi di fare vernice di Verse et prima di bengivi che secha etiam aV ombra. Togli acqua vite stillata quattro volte tre volte fa ma non si perfettamente oz due bengivi oz una di guaza in ampolla usque ad solutione belzui ut scis et è fatta serbala turata questa è cosa finissima quasi sopra miniature et ogni altro lavoro fine di pasta o colle o legname et cartoni et vetro
394 Modes of making divers varnishes and first of ben givi Benzoin which will dry in the shade. Take 2 oz spirit of wine which has been distilled 4 times that which has been distilled 3 times will do but not so well and one ounce of benzoin. Put the ingredients into a bottle and shake them until the benzoin is dissolved the varnish is then finished. It must be kept in a vessel closely stopped. This is a very fine varnish upon miniatures and all other delicate works on paste or glue or wood and also on paper and glass.
Spirituous liquors have been noticed in some of our earliest songs and writings, and the English shortly after the invasion, in the time of Henry II, found the people indulging in potations of this liquor. History informs us that the knowledge of aqua vita was first known in Europe in the reign of that monarch, but it is more than probable that it was known in Ireland before the English were acquainted with it. The strong affinity between the Irish language and the primitive languages of Asia, as stated by Vallancey and other etymologists, and the intercourse the Irish had with that quarter of the world, lead to the supposition that the art of distillation was introduced directly from India, but it is more likely that it was received from Spain or Italy, where it was early known under the epithet of acqua vite or acqua di vite, water of the vine, the grape being the material from which a spirit was originally extracted in those countries. The monasteries being the repositories of science and the original dispensaries of medicine, it is a natural surmise that the term acqua vite was there corrupted into the Latin and universal appellation aqua vita, water of life, from its salutary and beneficial effects as a medicine, and from the Latin tongue being the general conveyancer of scientific discovery as well as of familiar correspondence, the term aqua vita may have crept into common use to signify an indefinite distilled spirit in contradistinction to acqua vite, the mere extract of the grape. The dissolution of the monasteries gave the secret of this invention to the public, and the elixir of the alembic soon attained the summit of popular regard.
Brandy. A French translation of the Latin aqua vitæ (water of life). This is a curious perversion of the Spanish acqua di vitæ (water or juice of the vine), rendered by the monks into aqua vitæ instead of aqua vitis, and confounding the juice of the grape with the alchemists’ elixir of life. The same error is perpetuated in the Italian acqua vite; the Scotch whisky, which is the Celtic uisc-lyf; and the Irish usquebaugh, which is the Gaelic and Irish uisgæ-beatha. (See Aqua Vitae.)
The word aquavit is derived from Latin aqua vītae, “water of life.” The word whisky is derived from uisce beatha, the Goidelic equivalent of this phrase. Likewise, clear fruit brandy is called “eau de vie” (French for “water of life”). An apocryphal story holds that aquavit actually means “water from the vine,” a picturesque folk etymology derived through conflation of Latin vītae (genitive of vita) with the Italian vite (vine)