Magazine article Verbatim


Magazine article Verbatim


Article excerpt

The chemical ethanol, aka alcohol, has been lubricating social interaction, generating conviviality, loosening tongues, morals, and much else since time immemorial. The consumption of this universal drug, whether straight, iced, watered, or concocted ,has also spawned an accompanying verbal ritual with a different flavour in different cultures. A journey into the vocabulary of this inebriation ceremony is at times amusing, often fascinating, and nearly always illuminating.

"Let's drink a toast to Mr. Smith and Mrs. Jones," English speakers would say and their choice of word, toast, would be clearly understood by the French and Germans, who also say toast in such formal address. Italians, on the other hand, have imported toast to mean 'a toasted sandwich' and would be quite puzzled by its utterance on such occasions. Their looks would read, "Why do they want to give an unsophisticated hot snack to the distinguished guests?" They would instead opt for brindisi (toast), which has no culinary connotation.

Italians and Spaniards get two birds with one stone when they say salute and salud, respectively, the same word means both 'greetings' and 'good health,' hence a perfect way to initiate a drinking session. The French assume a more sober attitude and keep their greetings, salut, and health, sante, quite separate. They hold up their glasses and go "a votre sante." Italians must be drunk to use the universally recognised onomatopoeic, cin cin, to mimic clinking glasses. However, a word of advice may be appropriate at this point. Unless you intend to make an indecent proposal to your host or guest, you should avoid mentioning cin cin in Japan.

The Japanese way of alcohol consumption, be it beer, wine, or warm sake, is ushered in by kampai (pronounced come-pie). Ironically, it translates "let's clink our glasses" so is akin to cin cin. In Japanese, whether you want to say, "good health," "cheers," "bottoms up," "down the hatch," "let's make a toast," "success," "compliments," "skoal," "here's mud in your eye," or other drink-related social utterances with which English throngs, all you have to do is say kampai, simple as a zen garden.

In Germany, drinking is anything but a simple affair. Social etiquette requires that if you're drinking wine, you stick to zum wohl (good health), and sip your drink, not gulp it. If, on the other hand, you're informally having a jolly time in a beer garden getting through large amounts of lager, zum wohl would be totally out of place. You should choose prost; and if well into the swing of things and trying to get as drunk as you possibly can, you ought to articulate, if you can, prost und ex (all in one go). Further north, German prost's Swedish cousin, prosit, is a false friend; it is the automatic response to someone sneezing. Skoal is the appropriate term that precedes any drinking, serious or otherwise.

In Hungary, Germany's prost is the more zestful proszit. But that's not the whole story. Hungarians consider it bad luck to clink glasses and consider drinking a religious experience. Why else would they say egeszegedire (god bless you) just before indulging in alcohol? Those less versed in Hungarian should adhere to proszit; articulating egeszegedire is arduous even in more favourable circumstances.

An instruction to down an alcoholic beverage in one breath is not exclusive to German or English; it also exists in Spanish. …

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