Word for Wednesday: Beer

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Let’s have a game of word association.

What does the word ‘beer’ mean to you?

What are the first thoughts and images that flash up in your mind?

For me it’s a variety of things: local festivals and farmers’ markets; Homer Simpson’s Duff addiction; backpacking across Europe and visiting Délirium Café in Brussels; blowing musical notes on glass bottles; and, of course, many a drinking game. Indeed, with it being Freshers’ season at UK universities, there will no doubt be a number of students up and down the country who are acquiring or nursing a taste for the beverage.

Whether you love or hate beer, whatever your associations with the drink may be, you are part of a story goes back seven thousand years – chemical tests on ancient pottery have proved that beer was produced at least this long ago. However, because most cereal crops are able to use wild yeasts in the air for fermentation, beer, or beverages similar to beer, may have been brewed for as long as humans have been able to domesticate crops. Beer is even mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh (one of earliest surviving works of literature): " ...he ate until he was full, drank seven pitchers of beer, his heart grew light, his face glowed and he sang out with joy".

So where does the English word ‘beer’ originate from? According to the Online Etymology Dictionary (OED), the Old English ‘beor’, similar to the Old Frisian ‘biar’, the Dutch ‘bier’, and the Old High German ‘bior’, is ‘a word of much-disputed and ambiguous origin’. The word may be a sixth-century borrowing of the Vulgar Latin ‘biber’ (which means ‘a drink’) and comes from the Latin infinitive ‘bibere’ (which means ‘to drink’).

Whilst a common beverage for many European peoples, as well as in Mesopotamia (where beer may have originated) and Egypt (where it was used to treat illnesses and offered as a sacrifice to the gods), the OED explains that the Greeks and Romans would have seen the drink as an exotic product. The Greek word for beer, ‘brytos’ was related to the Old English word ‘breowan’, which means ‘brew’.

Today, beer is the world’s most consumed alcoholic beverage and indeed there is something for everyone – whether you prefer locally brewed beers; have a taste for beers made from a specific type of crop; or your decision is solely based on asking the bartender ‘So…what’s cheapest?’. Some companies now sell non-alcoholic beers and one of my favourite pubs, The Fat Cat in Norwch, even has a delicious peach-flavoured beer!

Avani Shah


02 Oct 2013
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One of the students has put in a huge amount of effort in completing Spellzone at least 3 times a week since his arrival with us in January. Looking at his scores after the latest GL testing, his standardised score has risen from 99 to 131. This is a truly phenomenal result. I just wanted to share the best result I have ever seen.

Terrie Penrose-Toms, Casterton College

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