Today with spry and questing fingers we part the boughs of the juniper tree and discover within — glistening berries of juniper word lore.
Genus: Juniperus < iuniperus Latin, a juniper tree; the source of the compound Latin word is unknown. But the late, great etymologist Eric Partridge offers a learned suggestion: Old Latin *ieniperus (?) thus akin to Latin iuncus ‘reed, rush’ perhaps related to earlier Mediterranean forms like the Egyptian ganu ‘reed, cane, shrub, bush.’
Ignorance of Latin in Wikipedia Folk Etymology
Now, for some not very learned etymology of juniper, check out the letterless ninny at Wikipedia who warbles “the Juniper tree’s name is derived from the Latin word juniperus. In Latin, juniperus is combination of the word junio [sic], which means young, and parere, to produce, hence youth producing, or evergreen.”
The ignorance of Latin in that Wikipedia sentence approaches levels of error I can only label as symphonic.
1. Junio is not in Latin a meaning-bearing lexeme, not a word in Latin and not a combining form.
2. Among the Latin words for young are: iuvenis, adulescens, parvus, or, figuratively, novus. Iunior is the comparative of iuvenis meaning ‘younger.’ The combining form is NOT *iunio-. If it existed, it would be iuniori-. But, of course, it does not and never did exist. There is not a single compound noun in 3,000 years of Latin that uses a comparative adjective as the initial element of a compound Latin noun. Not one.
3. How could youth-producing mean evergreen? You mean the green of the juniper branches was mistaken by some dendrological ignoramus as being all new growth, always, forever, each time the idiot tiptoed past the juniper bush, tossing rose petals on his own head?
Not even a shrub could be that dense.
But such error is nicely within the capacity of the Latin-free buffoons who, with a blithe and nescient nincompoopery, compose false etymologies for Wikipedia.
By the way, etymologies originating in my writings and publications regularly show up on Wikipedia, without attribution — stolen, mangled, misspelled, improperly punctuated, devoid of grammatical nicety and paraphrased to avoid plagiarism. Such thieving scribblers appear to have suffered severe neural insult due to serial cerebrovascular accidents. How these incontinent ditherers and linguistic piss-a-beds would be able even to strap on their Depends remains a mystery.
Juniperus virginiana or Eastern Red Cedar
Botanical Family of the Juniper: Cupressaceae, the cypress family
French: le genévrier, juniper tree; le genièvre juniper berry,
juniper tree, and the French word for ‘gin’
Origin of the English Word Gin
Gin is an alcoholic spirit distilled from grain or malt. The English word gin is an abbreviation of a booze name that entered English from the Netherlands, namely, Hollands Geneva, so called because it was first distilled in Holland and flavoured after fermentation with juniper berries and other flavourings. When gin first came to be drunk in Great Britain, the second part of the full name was confused with the Swiss city of Geneva and so capitalized. Gin has no connection with the Swiss canton or city (see below).
The Dutch term jenever or genever was borrowed from Old French genevre (modern French genièvre) ‘juniper tree,’ itself from iuniperus Latin ‘juniper tree.’
Another Historical Error
Was gin EVER made from fermented juniper berries, as the more sodden and dissolute histories of booze proclaim in every shoddy chapter ever written about the origin of gin? Historical recipes and the preponderance of documentary evidence say NEVER! Gin is flavored with juniper berries but seldom fermented from the berries.
Gin or Geneva Booze: No Connection with Geneva, Switzerland
Nor does it work the other way round: The Swiss city, ancient haunt of the merciless Christian fascist Calvin, did NOT take its name from the alcoholic drink. Heaven forfend! Gin has been indeed the ruin of many a maid and man. But the sloe path to dissolute ginsoakedness did not begin in Switzerland's Geneva.
Gin was not in its earliest years of addictive popularity sold in glass bottles.
Gin was first dispensed in ceramic bottles like the famous Bols container.
Possible Origin of Genoa, Name of the Italian City
Genava (or Genua in Latin) appeared first in De Bello Gallico, Julius Caesar’s self-praising political pamphlet on the Gallic Wars. Geneva’s moniker may be of the same source as the Italian city of Genoa. Genoa may mean ‘knee,’ referring to its geographical position at an angle or knee of a river course. Another suggestion, doubted by me, is the Indo-European root gen- ‘birth’ This would make Genawa signify a settlement ‘at the birth of the river from the womb of the lake.’
bark of Juniperus virginiana
North American Species of Juniper
Although it has more shrub forms, botanists consider juniper the tree with the widest range in the world. Several North American species attain tree size. One is the eastern red cedar, Juniperus virginiana (botanical Latin ‘of Virginia’). The heartwood is red. It is not a true cedar but was often used to make cedar chests because of the pleasant aroma of the wood and because eastern red cedar wood contains an oil that deters moths. The wood has also been used for making wooden pencils. Ornamental cultivars of this juniper are used in landscaping.
In Canada, from southern Alberta’s foothills to British Columbia’s interior mountain ranges grows Rocky Mountain Juniper, Juniperus scopulorum (Latin ‘of the rocky cliffs’). In spite of its specific, this conifer grows best in rich, well-drained, moist loam but can be seen clinging to a lofty precipice now and then.
The ripe berries — really the cones — of several juniper species are used as part of the flavouring of the French liqueur, Chartreuse. Juniper berries begin green and take two to three years to ripen to a dark blue when they are harvested to add piney zest to pâtés and to game meats like venison and rabbit.
European immigrants found First Peoples burning juniper needles as incense and as an inhalant to cure coughing, as well as using the berries in herbal remedies.
But note that raw, unprocessed berries of some juniper species can be toxic to livestock and are reported to have poisoned humans, although grouse, pheasants, and other birds bolt them with impunity. The cedar waxwing bird was actually named because of its preference for berries from the eastern red cedar or juniper.
A cedar waxwing feeds on a juniper berry.
Juniper’s Very Own Butterfly
In the more southerly reaches of its growth range, Juniperus virginiana has a species of butterfly that lays its eggs solely on eastern red cedar. It is the beautiful Juniper Hairstreak, pictured below ovipositing just behind a berry.
The Origin of Gin
The oldest use of juniper berries —probably six to ten thousand years old— is as a diuretic, a drug to assist the formation and excretion of urine. It was used for this purpose in ancient India and China, in primeval Europe, and by the First Peoples of the Americas. The most famous use of juniper-berry oil is to lend aroma and tang to the flavour of gin. Other herbs and spices are added to various gins, but the distinctive taste of gin was historically from an oil distilled from the berries of Juniperus communis (Latin, ‘common, general, growing in groups’), the shrubby juniper common to northern temperate zones around the world. The Dutch invented gin in the late 1500s as an easily distilled substitute for the more expensive juniper-berry oil.
Returning home from wars in the Lowlands, British soldiers brought both drink and word back to England, where jenever sounded to British ears like the Swiss city of Geneva, hence its first appearance in English print in 1706 as Geneva. Quickly shortened to gin, the British versions of the liquor were not always flavoured with juniper berries. But, cheap to make, gin quickly caused a serious outbreak of mass alcoholism.
Here, from 1714 CE, is the first use of the word gin in English print, in The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Publick Benefits by Bernard Mandeville: “The infamous liquor, the name of which deriv’d from Juniper-Berries in Dutch, is now, by frequent use. . . from a word of middling length shrunk into a Monosyllable, intoxicating Gin.”
A few years later in 1738 appeared this note defining gin by the famous poet Alexander Pope: “A spiritous liquor, the exorbitant use of which had almost destroyed the lowest rank of the People till it was restrained by an act of Parliament.” But Gin Acts through the 1730s and 1740s did not curb excessive consumption. William Hogarth’s moral outrage more than ten years later is proof, in the muddle of stuporous whores, gin-sodden children, and cirrhotic male imbeciles sprawled hither and thither upon the cobblestones in his famous engraving, “ Gin Lane,” published in 1751. Higher taxes and less potent gin helped assuage the problem toward the end of the 1750s.
Hogarth's engraving “Gin Lane” from 1751
A Few Canadian Place Names
Early Acadians in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick called juniper or eastern red cedar baton rouge ‘red stick.’ After the expulsion of the Acadians and their arrival in Louisiana to become Cajuns, they found a similar tree down south and named the capital city of Louisiana after it. Western New Brunswick itself still has a little town called Juniper not too far from the Maine border.
Île des Genévriers ‘ Juniper Tree Island’ hugs the north shore of Québec a few miles from the Québec-Labrador border.
Your humble deponent trusts this modest étude of juniper and gin was tonic to your word soul.
Copyright © 2012 William Gordon Casselman
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October 26, 2011
Welcome to the Enchanted Forest
By WB Johnston
This review is about Bill Casselman’s latest e-book about words: Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A Word Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems (Kindle Edition)
“Wade Davis, lately of National Geographic, once described each living language as “an old-growth forest of the human spirit.” Once you decide to enter the kleptomaniacal woods of our mother tongue, what you need is more than a tour guide. This is no Disney-fied ‘keep-your-hands-inside-the-car-at all-times’, point A to point B, clear-cutting mining of language. You, here, are in the hands of Sir William of Cassel, a genuine shaman modestly posing as a simple lover of words.
Leave it on your desk at work and trust that someone will riffle through it when you are out at lunch. Shamans are magicians of the highest order. The work of their hands and hearts is game-changing. Or, hey, put it on your Kindle and just feel comforted that you can wander back out into the forest with Bill even in the middle of a boring lecture.
(Casselman replies: Thank you so much, Dr. J., for the kudos. )
Jenni French of San Fancisco, California writes on her blog “My Corner of the Universe” for March 19, 2011:
Casselman, Bill. Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A World Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2010.
And the author has quite a way with words, so I have found myself rereading many sentences in this book and slowing my progress through it.
My current favorite sentence is found in a discussion of dog hybrid breed names: “What a revolting concatenation of cutesiness and smarmy nomenclatorial treacle parading under the name of canine hybrid breed names” (19).
I’m sure I’ll have another favorite sentence in a day or two.
This book is just that good and just that entertaining.”
(Author Bill Casselman replies: “Thanks, Jenni!” )
Just a reminder that this book contains my ALL-NEW word esssays, none of which are available anywhere else in print or online.
Cindy Lapeña on her blog “Creativity Unlimited” of July 19 ,2011, writes:
Posted by mimrlith in 365 Things to Look Forward to.
19. Starting a book
To a certified bibliophile like me, a.k.a. bookworm, one of the most exciting things to look forward to is to start reading a new book. In fact, sometimes the prospect of starting to read a new book is so exciting that I have to hurry to finish the book I am currently reading, just so I can start a new one.
If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s a book, especially if it promises to be a good one. Of course there are certain books I just won’t touch or be seen with, but at the risk of being hung by my thumbs by fans of such literature, I will not mention any genres in particular. . .
Seeing a book with a title that totally captivates me, like Where a Dobdob meets a Dikdik (yes, that is a book title!) has me so worked up, I just can’t wait to dive in. I imagine all sorts of deliciously fancifully outrageous words with a title like that. Is it obvious? I just love books on words. You won’t believe how many dictionaries I own. Or books on lexical oddities and other lexical explorations. Yes, I am a logophile of sorts. I love the new words I pick up from new books. I relish finding out the meanings of all manner of words and phrases and expressions. What could be more fun?”
(Replies author Bill Casselman: Please scroll to bottom of page or click here to link to a free seven-page preview of my new book, Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Dear Mr. Casselman,
. . . I revisited the paraprosdokian page, and have finally quit laughing again at “Casselman’s Conclusion.” You were not unkind to the “profligate prof-lets.” During my years as an acquisitions editor, in rejection letters I often quoted Prof. Moses Hadas, classicist at Columbia University, who wrote a young scholar in response to having been sent the prof-let’s first book, “Thank you for sending me your book. I will waste no time reading it.”
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