My wife and I are still reading Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series (we’re most of the way through the fourth novel, The Mauritius Command), and naturally we hear a fair amount about grog. I’ve seen the etymology of the word before but had forgotten it, and since it’s surprising and Asya Pereltsvaig tells it well at Languages of the World, I’ll quote her post for the edification and delectation of all and sundry:

Take the word groggy: today it describes someone who’s shaky, dizzy or sluggish, as from a blow or from the lack of sleep, as well as someone experiencing similar symptoms due to being drunk (that’s the earlier meaning, as we shall see immediately below). But the history of this word goes back to a rather unexpected place: the French expression gros grain meaning ‘coarse grain’. It is from this expression that the name of the coarse fabric grogram derives. Still, how did we get from a coarse fabric to being dizzy and sluggish? The crucial figure in this tortuous path is Admiral Edward Vernon of the British Navy, known to sailors as “Old Grog”, for he often wore a coat made of grogram (note that the shortening of grogram to Grog follows the same path of clipping that leaves behind a non-morpheme, as in the case of blog from weblog).
It was Admiral Vernon who in 1740 ordered water to be added to the ration of rum served to the sailors under his command; to cut down on the water’s foulness, lemon or lime juice was also added, which led to lowering the incidence of scurvy, even though the connection was not yet understood at the time. The rest of the Royal Navy rapidly followed Vernon’s lead, and eventually the Admiral’s nickname grog became associated with the drink itself, rum diluted with water. A sailor drunk on grog was called groggy, and eventually the meaning of this word was extended from a more specific to a more general one to include a hazy and dizzy state from any cause.

(The remainder of Asya’s post has interesting stuff about cheese, foie gras, and other things and is well worth reading.)


  1. rootlesscosmo says

    The French spelling “gros grain” also survives in English “grosgrain” which I think is the more usual term in the fabric business, e.g.

  2. John Emerson says

    On the other hand, the Scandinavians, also nautical nations, call mulled wine glögg, Gløgg, or Glögi:
    Glögg is the term for mulled wine in the Nordic countries (sometimes misspelled as glog or glug); (in Swedish and Icelandic: Glögg, Norwegian and Danish: Gløgg, Estonian and Finnish: Glögi).Link.

  3. John Emerson says

    “The Royal Navy’s grog recipe includes lemon juice, water, rum, and cinnamon. A commonly-found recipe in the Caribbean includes water, light rum, grapefruit juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, cinnamon, and honey.” (Also wiki).
    These seme tolerably close to glögg, which is also a spiced mix. But the Scandinavians also use the word “grog” for a different, rather random mixed drink.

  4. Trond Engen says

    I’ve thought that fo grog to be from gløgg, it would have to come from a retroflex dialect (Eastern/Central Norwegian, Central/Borthern Swedish). My Norwegian dictonary says gløgg is a loan from Swedish and related to glöda “glow”.

  5. Trond Engen says

    Sorry, bad finger day.
    I meant to add that it might be a shortened calque of German Glühwein. Hellquist says that it’s a nominilization of a verb glödga “be glowing” formed from the adjective glödhoger (=glödug) “glowing”. I think this pattern is specifically Swedish, which I suppose is why, within Scandinavian, it would have to have spread from Swedish.

  6. Several takes on Old Grog’s decision:
    – In language terms: If they were groggy after they drank their rum diluted with water, what kind of state would they have been in after drinking their original straight rum? I guess I mean, what was the original expression for ‘blind drunk’.
    – In management terms this sounds like a big step for both productivity and safety that any modern manager would be proud of. Very economical, too — they certainly weren’t dishing out Perrier.
    – In terms of epicurean living, was this the first cocktail? Water, rum, and lime juice sounds like a very pleasant combination.

  7. John, they always sound similar to me too, but gløgg (and why 2 Gs, Trond?) -slash- glue-wine doesn’t taste like a rum drink, it’s (in my experience) hot red wine punch with cloves. I’ll take the rum with lime and bathwater, thanks.
    And what Rootless said, about grosgrain.

  8. In my experience, the gløgg offered here in Brussels at Christmas market time by the Scandinavian community is much stronger than Glühwein, because it always contains brandy.

  9. Trond Engen says

    I’ve had gløgg with heimbrent, so strong that the fumes alone would be enough to put a fullgrown bull to rest in seconds. Sadly, I’m of a weaker sort.
    Gemination marks short vowel + “long” consonant. Katt, rykk, napp, pluss, hogge, renne osv. Or did you mean why the vowel was shortened in this word? Probably by assimilation of d to g on a stage before it was lost in the base word:
    Ädj. glödhog > verb glödga assim. > glögga > noun glögg.
    I don’t think the pattern is specifically Swedish after all. There’s a Norwegian verb bløgge “bleed (trans.)”, used e.g. when cleaning fish, that seems to be derived the same way.

  10. I see I’m not getting very high quality gløgg.
    Off topic, I wonder if anyone’s familiar with a young American’s blog about Xingjiang, called http://www.farwestchina.com? It looks quite good. It was recommended in an ecology article in the Guardian.

  11. Must be good — for some reason it’s not accessible from Beijing (whether this is a temporary glitch or a permanent block, I do not know).

  12. Oh, I forgot about the blocking. It’s probably blocked, I just read an interesting piece about Kashgar’s old city of mud-brick buildings that recently got bulldozed by the government. But the writer doesn’t have an axe to grind, he just seems to have moved there from the US for the hell of it. “…did you know that Xinjiang produces more than 70% of all China’s tomatoes? Or that China accounts for a quarter of all global tomato output? Think about that next time you eat your ketchup-covered hot dog.” There’s a lot of stuff about Uyghur culture.

  13. I’m putting this up for Bathrobe:

    If you’ve spent any amount of time in Xinjiang, chances are you’ve heard this song more times than you can count. It is, in my opinion, the most popular song in Xinjiang.

    How popular, you ask? It’s so well known that even Han Chinese – most of whom can’t speak the Uyghur language – can sing along and know the meaning of the words. I find myself humming the tune every once in a while for no reason as well.
    Check out the video yourself and see if you recognize it:


    Oddly, the three women in this video aren’t from Xinjiang. They are Uyghur from Uzbekistan and they represent the finest of what is Uyghur pop. The trio, named Shahrizoda (شهريزاده), have quite a few other well-known songs, but this is by far the most common.

  14. I was surprised to discover that some of the Patrick O’Brian novels were unique in that they’re more than just sailing stories: there are little gems of…well, wisdom!…about human nature.That was something I didn’t expect to find in a boat book.
    No Moby jokes, please.

  15. Hat: typo alert: next to last line: “Asya”, not “Anya”.

  16. Thanks; fixed.

  17. “Or that China accounts for a quarter of all global tomato output?”
    I was amazed to find out, during one of these TV quizzes, that China is by far the biggest potato producer in the world. You’d think it would figure more prominently in their cuisine.

  18. Potatoes don’t figure much in their haute cuisine, but they do figure somewhat more in their plebeian fare (although I don’t think of them as a nation of big potato eaters).
    Xinjiang food is quite different from Chinese food. It uses meat, tomatoes, and spices, and red wine goes very well with it.

  19. By ‘meat’, of course I mean mutton, usually. No pork.

  20. Maybe they export lots of crisps.

  21. Worth noting that the rum ration was not a unique anti-scorbutic perquisite for the British navy, but extended to the army as well, especially in the Caribbean where rum was cheap and plentiful. More than one planned battle was scotched when too many of the men were insensible. (For want of a Rusty Nail…).
    Interestingly, senior commanders seemed to take it in stride.

  22. It’s not the rum as such that’s anti-scorbutic, of course, but the lime juice — except when it had been cut by unscrupulous purveyors.

  23. O’Brien’s Dr. Maturin uses the word “sophisticated” to mean “cut” in that sense.

  24. John Emerson says

    Potatoes are the best calories-per-acre crop of all. And according to Joseph Needham, when potatoes were introduced to China the population increased multifold, both as a backup when the rice crop failed and as a poverty food when rice prices were high.
    The Irish problem was that the potato wasn’t a backup but the staple, and there was no backup.
    In Taiwan 1983 one of my students who had lived in Germany said that he liked potatoes OK as a vegetable, but not as a “substitute for rice”. He said “substitute for rice” with an air of disgust and contempt.

  25. I can understand that. There is no substitute for rice. (I was born in Japan.)

  26. Doubtless, but there is no substitute for potatoes either! (I was born in a German/Irish household, the first two European groups to decide they’d rather eat “the wretched root” than starve.)

  27. rootlesscosmo says

    Squire Matthew Bramble in Smollett’s novel “Humphrey Clinker” lists, among his many complaints about London life:
    “As to the intoxicating potion, sold for wine,
    it is a vile, unpalatable, and pernicious sophistication, balderdashed with
    cyder, corn-spirit, and the juice of sloes. In an action at law, laid against a carman for having staved a cask of port, it appeared from the
    evidence of the cooper, that there were not above five gallons of real wine in the whole pipe, which held above a hundred, and even that had been brewed and adulterated by the merchant at Oporto.”
    “Sophistication” here is the result rather than the operation. Transitive “balderdashed” is nice too.

  28. That’s a very nice ∅, rootless.

  29. It’s the true empty-set sign, as distinct from that there Scowegian letter which the Swedes discarded when they wanted to make their language look essentially more German.

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