Cider and alcohol history dropping around the internet.
Cider and alcohol history dropping around the internet.
It’s been a busy few weeks here. Below are a few highlights.
The Cider Guide, run by Eric West, is a weekly round-up of cider news and notes. He has generously shared several of Pommel’s recent posts.
I was honored to be asked to contribute a cider history timeline to the refreshed Pennsylvania Cider Guild website.
Brian Dressler, of Dressler Estate, and I were interviewed for the article, MODERN CIDERING: Try your hand at making cider — or — enjoy some of the locally-made refreshment. It’s funny that it’s about modern cidering when all I really talked about was historic cidering.
I’m please to announce that the Pommel Cyder blog has cracked the top 40. The blog is ranked 22nd at the Top 40 Cider Blogs. Our thanks to Feedspot for including us and to Casey Kasem who reminded me every Saturday to keep my feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.
What you have told us, says he, is all very good. It is indeed bad to eat Apples. It is better to make them all into Cyder.
Cider folks love this quote. It’s simple. It’s direct. It’s commonly quoted in cider books, article, and websites. This blog even includes it in the masthead above.
It helps that it’s from Benjamin Franklin, the Founder who has a reputation for having a good time, all the time. The quote is from his c. 1784 essay, “Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America.” Franklin was in Paris, waiting to be recalled home now that the American Revolution was over. With time on his hands and in light of recent events, he was pondering the nature of civilized and savage societies.
Drawing on his experience in American politics and with various Indian nations, he chose to frame his thoughts as a comparison between those two cultures. To make his point sharper (and perhaps more palatable) he chose to make it a satire.
In “Remarks” Franklin compares the savage Americans with the civilized Indians. At one point, he uses a Swedish minister preaching to Indians to make underscore this point:
The Politeness of these Savages in Conversation is indeed carried to excess, since it does not permit them to contradict, or deny the Truth of what is asserted in their Presence. By this means they indeed avoid Disputes, but then it becomes difficult to know their Minds, or what Impression you make upon them. The Missionaries who have attempted to convert them to Christianity, all complain of this as one of the great Difficulties of their Mission. The Indians hear with Patience the Truths of the Gospel explained to them, and give their usual Tokens of Assent and Approbation: you would think they were convinced. No such Matter. It is mere Civility.
A Suedish Minister having assembled the Chiefs of the Sasquehanah Indians, made a Sermon to them, acquainting them with the principal historical Facts on which our Religion is founded, such as the Fall of our first Parents by Eating an Apple, the Coming of Christ to repair the Mischief, his Miracles and Suffering, &c. When he had finished, an Indian Orator stood up to thank him. What you have told us, says he, is all very good. It is indeed bad to eat Apples. It is better to make them all into Cyder. We are much obliged by your Kindness in coming so far to tell us those things which you have heard from your Mothers. In return I will tell you some of those we have heard from ours.
After the Indians finished sharing their stories,
The good Missionary, disgusted with this idle Tale, said, what I delivered to you were sacred Truths; but what you tell me is mere Fable, Fiction & Falsehood. The Indian offended, reply’d, my Brother, it seems your Friends have not done you Justice in your Education; they have not well instructed you in the Rules of common Civility. You saw that we who understand and practise those Rules, believed all your Stories; why do you refuse to believe ours?
The cyder line remains a great quote, but as you can see, it’s part of a satirical comment on American society said by Franklin’s fictional Indian.
In 1840 presidential candidate William Henry Harrison ran his “Log Cabin & Hard Cider” Campaign. Essentially he claimed he was raised in a humble a log cabin drinking common cider.
While his campaign claims weren’t accurate, the campaign was a success on several levels. Harrison became the 9th president and the term “hard cider” became more common in American English. It’s now so firmly embedded in our language that today it’s what we call almost all fermented apple juice. Americans are the only ones in the English-speaking world to use that term. Everywhere else it’s just called cider. Early Americans left off the hard too. From the earliest settlement through the nineteenth century it was simply called cider. So when did it get to be “hard”?
As it turns out, “hard cider” isn’t originally American. It appears to be British. The earliest reference to “hard cider” found so far is in the 1690 A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew dictionary, printed in London. It’s in the definition for Freeze, which is
Freeze is cheap cider used to adulterate good wine. This definition is repeated verbatim in British dictionaries throughout the eighteenth century, including
The definition for freeze, being “thin, small, hard” is curious. Since cider at that time always meant alcoholic apple juice, those words seem to be describing the character of cider. In looking up other early definitions for “hard” one finds the usual definition of firmness. Some dictionaries, though, defined it as rough. A few even defined it as a rough characteristic of drinks.
A New English Dictionary, John Kersey’s 1739 dictionary, defines hard as
Samuel Johnson’s 1755 A Dictionary of the English Language has several definitions for hard, including
In 1789 Thomas Sheridan in his A Complete Dictionary of the English Language defined hard as
Noah Webster’s 1828 An American Dictionary of the English Language not only defines hard as a character of liquors, he uses cider in his example sentence:
According to these definitions the “hard” in hard cider has nothing to do with alcohol content, but with taste.
Hard cider doesn’t appear in American records until 1786, when The New-York Packet included it in a cure for dropsy (an archaic term for edema).(1)
After the Packet published it in 1786, “hard cider” only occasionally appeared in print over the next forty years. When it did, the story suggests the cider is low-quality.(2) For example, in 1790, when a resident of Charleston, South Carolina realized the state capital would remain in Columbia, he worried that Charlestonians would be reduced to a less civilized lifestyle, including having only hard cider to drink.
The overall tone of John Woodger’s 1804 obituary suggests he preferred an exceedingly unrefined lifestyle, appropriately choosing hard cider over everything else.
Why use good cider for vinegar making when hard “cyder” would be less expensive, as Jona Rogers advertised in 1826.
This fictional 1830 humorous piece calls hard cider “dreadful.”
One ne’er-do-well trader included hard cider among his limited and poor stock.
This understanding of “hard” as rough, sour, or acidic adds a new layer to understanding Harrison’s campaign. He didn’t simply claim to drink cider. He claimed to drink the cheapest, harshest cider, just like the people did who he appealed to.(3)None of this is to say that Americans only called it hard cider after 1840. Cider continued to be used well into the nineteenth century as the name of fermented apple juice. What remains unclear is when the word cider came to mean fresh juice and when hard cider exclusively meant fermented juice. That search continues.
Author’s Note: Last time I looked into the etymology, or origin, of the word cider. In this post I’ll take at the orthography, or spelling conventions, of cider over time. I have no doubt I missed things.
In Middle English what we spell as “cider” was spelled like this:
Cedir, cedyr, cider, cidre, cither, sider, sedir, seider, seyder, sider, sidre, sidur, sither, sychere, sydir, sydur, sydyr
This is almost certainly not a complete list. Until the nineteenth century, English spelling was largely phonetic – people spelled how they pronounced things. Their understanding of which letters made what sounds was often local and widely variable. Those possible spellings came from a variety of sources, none of which English grammarians ever consistently streamlined or standardized. Hence all of our “rules” and their various exceptions.
This is because English is a blended language. It’s roots are Germanic with Scandinavian, German, Latin, French, and Greek words, among others, grafted onto it. As the Anglo-Saxons, and later the English, encountered new cultures (and by encountered, we mean were invaded by), they borrowed words their into English.
Not only did English borrow words, they also imported letters to represent new sounds for its ever-evolving vocabulary. In the 7th century Christian missionaries brought the Latin alphabet to England, which replaced the Germanic runic alphabet. With Latin as the base, other letters were added to represent the sounds of these foreign words. Over time this led to orthographic anarchy.
Sometime before the 14th century literate Christian missionaries began establishing spelling guidelines. They tried to honor the original language by retaining something of their original spellings, even if the pronunciations of letters was different from what was accepted English spelling. For example, if it was originally a French word they kept the French spelling and pronunciation. This non-standardized standardization is what left us with so many redundant letter sounds and spellings.
Just after these new “standardized” spellings were being set, English pronunciation went through a change. Known as the Great Vowel Shift (GVS), it changed how people spoke their vowels. However, the spelling standards which had been created before the GVS were not revisited. This is why so many spellings and pronunciations often seem mismatched to modern English speakers.
With that brief background, let’s take a sound-by-sound look at how all of this led to the various cider spellings.
/s/ Sound – C & S
Latin got the S from the Greeks and English later inherited the S with its /s/ sound from Latin.
The letter C also comes from Latin. However in Latin all Cs were pronounced as we would a K sound. After the Fall of Rome, Latin split into what we call the Romance languages, including French. Over time, French slowly shifted the C from a K sound to a soft /s/ sound. So the Latin cisera (ki-sera) became cidre (see-dra). It’s a process called assibilation. The French word for “cider” became sibilant.
In 1066 French-speaking Normans conquered England and brought with them their S-sounding Cs. These Cs worked alongside Ss, already in English to create /s/ sounds.
/ī/ Sound – I & Sometimes Y (and Ey and Ei)
The letter I and the /ī/ sound is also from Latin.
Sometimes Y also makes an /ī/ sound. In the 7th century Irish monks began translating church documents into early English. They adopted the Greek Y to represent sounds which didn’t exist in Latin. Originally this Y was more of a /ü/ sound. During the Great Vowel Shift, this /ü/-sounding Y shifted to more of a long-i sound. After the GVS words that had a long-i sound could be spelled with either an i or y.
From at least the early Middle English period the long-i sound could also be spelled as “ey” or “ei.”
/d/ Sound – D & TH
Our D comes to us from the Latin alphabet. However, words with a D could be pronounced with a D sound and sometimes a TH sound. Think how sometimes we say “that” and sometimes we say “dat.” The two sounds are pronounced very similarly, and in some times and places were heard to be interchangeable.
While the /ər/ sound occurring at the end of some words comes into English from German and French words, it’s the French spelling of that sound that has caused some confusion. In French that sound is spelled -re, but by Middle English it was sometimes spelled -er. Both spellings represented the same sound from just after the Norman Invasion through the 18th century. Today British English still uses the -re spelling in some words, while most American English words use -er.
By Late Middle English -ir, -ur, and -yr all sounded close enough that they could also be used to spell the /ər/ sound.
As we see above, the sounds of various letters came into English from a variety of sources. Since there was no standardized way to spell words, only various options to spell various sounds, it is easy to see why the word cider came in as many styles as the drink.
For anyone researching pre-nineteenth-century cider, knowing about these spellings is important as more and more historical resources are digitized and online. One can’t just type in “cider” and expect to find everything.
While not as many as in Middle English, one can still find “cider” spelled in various ways in more modern English. In the seventeenth through the early nineteenth centuries the common ways to spell cider had dwindled to cider, cidre, cyder, and sider. It’s only been within the last two hundred years that “cider” became the standard spelling for alcoholic apple juice. Those older words continue to be used today as some new cideries have adopted the old spellings.
Despite what anyone might suggest, the different spellings don’t represent different products or types of cider. They’re just the result of our weird and wonderful language.(1)
For more on the history of English and its spelling, check out these resources:
History of English Podcast (this is a favorite and inspired this post)
On the history of the letter C see Episode 5: Centum, Satem and the Letter C
On the history of the Latin Alphabet see Episode 35: English Sounds and Roman Letters
On vowel sounds and their changes see Episode 88: The Long and Short of It
Author’s Note: I am not a professional etymologist (one who studies words, not bugs. That’s entomologist). What follows is my understanding of the cider etymology and the history of the word “cider.”
I was curious, where does cider come from? Not the drink, the word. The Online Etymology Dictionary, Dictionary.com, An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (see entry for “cider”), and R.K. French’s The History and Virtues of Cyder (page 11) all share a similar line of descent – from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to French to English.
Usually when everyone agrees on something like this, I feel the need to dig deeper. So I did. While the general overview seems solid, things are a little messier than is often recognized.
Starting with modern English and working backwards through time, the cider etymology looks like this:
Cidre / Sidre
Middle English, After 1066 to 15th century
Originally, strong drink; by mid-14th century alcoholic apple or pear juice
Cidre / Sidre
Old French, 8th – 14th Centuries 12th Century
Alcoholic pear or apple juice
Old French, Appears to be transition between Latin and later French
Alcoholic pear or apple juice
Late Latin, 3rd – 6th Centuries CE
Related to Cisara / Cisera
Latin, Uncertain Origin
In all of the above Latin words each C is pronounced with a hard K-sound (si-kera)
There is a question over which came first in English, the Latin or the French influence. As noted above, many overviews suggest that the English word “cider” is descended from the French. However, there’s some evidence for a direct Latin root.
In 1895 Sir George Birdwood (great name, ain’t it?) presented a paper on the various spellings of cider, which led him to review its etymology. After listing his evidence, he said, “These clearly proved that the word cyder, syder, or cider came, not only through the French cidre, but direct from the “sicera.” For Birdwood, this was evidence that the Latin form of it was older than French.”
There is some support for this Latin first idea. In 1857 Joseph Mayer published A Library of National Antiquities, Volume I: A Volume of Vocabularies. In it he transcribed early English (Anglo-Saxon) glossaries, three of which have the Latin we’ve seen above, including:
Sicera – “Archbishop Alfie’s Vocabulary,” 10th century
Cicera – “Semi-Saxon Vocabulary,” 12th century
Scicera – “The Treatise de Utensilibus of Alexander Neckam,” 12th century
While a Latin root for the English word cider remains debatable, these early glossaries suggest that the Latin for cider may have preceded and then been concurrent with the French in some places in England before dropping out of use entirely.
Next time we’ll look at the various spellings, or orthography, of the English word for alcoholic apple juice through time.
I’m taking cider history on the road! I’m pleased to announce that I have several presentations available, covering a variety of cider history topics. They are suitable for cider, museum, and civic events.
I’m based in the mid-Atlantic region, but arrangements can be made to go further afield.
For more information or to schedule a presentation check out the new Cider History Roadshows page.