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A Conversation on Cider and Prohibition at the Alcohol Professor

Though we’re passing the centennial of Prohibition, interest in Prohibition’s effect on cider isn’t diminishing. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Andrew Tobia at The Alcohol Professor site. Check out our conversation, “The Rise and Fall of American Cider Culture.”

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Intemperate Temperance Cuts Down Cider

This is the next installment in our continuing series, “Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?”

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Though Temperance originally advocated moderation, after the 1830s it fought for total abstinence (from alcohol consumption, that is). As Temperance changed, cider went from being a temperance drink, to a contributing cause, and finally to being the cause of alcohol abuse in America.

Temperance grew more potent because Americans at the beginning of the nineteenth century were a drunken, hot mess. Prior to the Revolutionary War Americans generally drank in a couple of ways – daily dram drinking (small tipples throughout the day, not with the intention to get drunk) and occasional social binging (essentially inebriation parties). The Revolution unleashed a degree of freedom completely unknown before, and with it came excessive drinking. Some people were anxious and uncertain about this new-found freedom and sought refuge in alcohol, while others saw drinking to intoxication (whether alone or not) as an expression of personal liberty. Whether it was from anxiety or freedom, studies suggest that more alcohol was consumed per person between 1790 and 1830 then at any other time in American history. (1)

As we saw last time, Cider was originally tolerated as a Temperance drink. Temperance advocates focused on hard liquor instead. Up through the 1820s if Temperancers viewed cider as a problem it was because it could be distilled into apple brandy. Some Temperance-supporting farmers worried that their apple orchards were the root of this evil. (2) For example, one “farmer” entitled his 1827 op-ed, “What Shall I Do With My Apples?” and continued

Is the question now rising in the mind of many a farmer, who is, or would appear, the friend of temperance. If he gathers his apples, of course he must make them into cider; and if he makes them into cider, of course he must sell it; and if he is to sell it, of course he must sell it to the distiller, or procure it distilled and then sell the brandy; and if the brandy is sold, it must be drank; and in this way every barrel will make and circulate liquid fire enough to ruin a soul, if not to destroy a life.

In 1829, a Connecticut farmer was quoted as saying he worried about having an orchard, “because the apples may be ground into cider, the cider may be distilled into spirituous liquor, and liquor, if drunken, will make a man drunk.” (3)

In the 1820s, Temperance organizations were established and spread across the nation. By the 1830s, these organizations hardened their view of softer alcoholic drinks. In 1869 one Temperance supporter explained this change, saying

In the infancy of the temperance reform, say from 1826 to 1832, a pledge, including spirituous or distilled liquors, was the only pledge in force, so that a man could be an active member of a temperance society and yet use and dispense in his household, wine, beer, or cider. A few years of experience convinced the earnest friends of temperance, that these drinks were constantly manufacturing new drunkards, and were also carrying back to their cups the most of those over whose reformation they had rejoiced. Hence the adoption of the total abstinence pledge, embracing the fermented as well as the distilled liquors.

sons of temperance detail

Artistic rendering of a Temperance pledge. Detail from the Sons of Temperance, c. 1845. Wikimedia.

From then on the Temperance view was that cider, not apple brandy, made drunkards. In 1836 the American Temperance Society said that, “Cider, strong beer, and wine are… the foundation of intemperate drinking.” Physician Samuel Bayard Woodward wrote in 1838 that, “Even cider, although in many instances it may be taken without danger, will induce, in many others, a love of something stronger, and, as the natural tendency is to desire an increase of strength, it will increase the danger of a relapse.” In 1839 the American Temperance Union wrote that, “Wine and cider are great and mighty hindrances to the overthrow of intemperance.”

The 1838 Temperance Map illustrated these views.

The map shows the Lands of Inebriation and Self-Denial. The map is an allegory of one’s descent into drunkenness and the (one and only?) route to salvation. The Ocean of Animal Appetites leads you to Inebriation. Inebriation consists of the territories of Indulgence, False Security, False Pleasure, False Comfort, False Hope, Total Indifference, and Ruin. The entry into the “Land of Inebriation” – a horrible place full of nasty pleasures and self-inflicted pains – was “Cider Inlet.”

Cider Inlet

Detail from upper left of the map.

From the 1830s onward, cider was portrayed as the “gateway” drink to harder stuff. During that time, Temperance worked to prevent alcohol addiction by working to prevent cider consumption.

Next Time: Did intemperate Temperance cut down orchards?

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1. See W.J. Rorabaugh, The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), Chapters 2 and 5.

2. It is often difficult to tell if a temperance article was authored by a farmer or by a Temperancer posing as a farmer to use “peer” pressure.

3. Weekly Eastern Argus, published as Eastern Argus. (Portland, Maine) • 07-14-1829, Page 3.

 

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The Mighty Effects of Spirituous Liquor Displayed, or Cider was a Temperance Drink

This is the next installment in our continuing series, “Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?”

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Throughout the eighteenth century temperance was defined as moderation.(1) Being temperate in all things, or at least being seen as such, was desirable. Even Benjamin Franklin, the Founder known for having a good time all the time, placed temperance first on his list of 13 virtues, saying, “Eat not to dulness; drink not to elevation.”

Franklin wasn’t the only one to suggest temperance. Reminders, gentle and otherwise, to lead a temperate life were common, because it was believed being intemperate caused many ills, physical and social. One saying went that, “AFTER SWEET MEAT COMES SOUR SAUCE,” which was explained as

… an excellent Monition to Temperance and Sobriety, for that whatsoever is excessive and unreasonable, either in our Actions or our Passions or Appetites, in either drinking or eating, to Gluttony; either in point of Wit, Mirth, or Wantonness to Intemperance; of Lust, Leachery, or Lewdness to Iniquity, will certainly make the sweetest Meat we can eat rise as sour as a Crab in our Stomachs; for there is a rank Poison in the Tail of all unlawful Pleasures…(2)

By the way, the crab mentioned above is shorthand for a crab apple.

Eighteenth-century temperance was motivated by the enlightened, self-improving culture of the time. As the century progressed, more and more people grew concerned about alcohol’s physical, moral, and social impact. This temperance, led by two Philadelphia social reformers, believed distilled liquors were a real danger.

1774 Benezet Mighty Destroyer Displayed Title Pagein 1774 Anthony Benezet, a Philadelphia teacher and Quaker, published The Mighty Destroyer Displayed, targeting hard liquor as the root of many ills, from untimely death to slavery. He said that, “alcohol enfeebles drinkers,” and, “thousands die annually by alcohol, but no one blames it.”

Though focused on hard liquor, his conclusion made little distinction between fermented and distilled beverages. He warned that, “All intoxicating liquors may be considered as poisons; however disguised, that is their real character, and sooner or later they will have their effect.”

However, he does mention cider as beneficial. Benezet suggested water and molasses with a little cider was a refreshing and healthful drink for harvesters. He’s quick to mention that the cider is desirable for its addition of acid, not alcohol.(3)

A year after Benezet published The Mighty Destroyer the American Revolution began. During the war, alcohol was a part of army life. Rum was issued to soldiers as a daily ration and as a reward for extra service.(4) The Continental Army’s Surgeon General, Dr. Benjamin Rush, grew concerned about the healthfulness of drinking among soldiers, particularly rum drinking. In 1778 he published Directions for Preserving the Health of Soldiers, covering the appropriate dress, diet, exercise, cleanliness, encampments, and exercise for American soldiers. Under “Diet” he argued that, “The use of rum, by gradually wearing away the powers of the [body’s] system, lays the foundation of fevers, fluxes, jaundices, and the most of the diseases which occur in the military hospitals.” Despite his attempts, rum continued to be issued for the rest of the war.

1959.0160 A, B Benjamin Rush Painting and Frame

Clearly Dr. Rush is not one of those drinking writers.
Source

He carried these concerns into civilian life. In 1784, ten years after Benezet’s work and one year after the Revolutionary War ended, Rush published An Inquiry Into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors on the Human Body. Expanding on his thoughts from Directions, he said that, “Liquor destroys more lives than the sword,” and that distilled beverages inhibit the morals and manners of drinkers.

Unlike Benezet, Rush doesn’t think all alcohol is ultimately poison. He listed the alcohols which he felt were beneficial when consumed in moderation. At the top of his list was cider, which he called, “This excellent liquor” and said it, “contains a small quantity of spirit, but so diluted and blunted, by being combined with an acid and a large quantity of saccharine matter and water, as to be perfectly inoffensive and wholesome.”(5)

To help his readers gauge their level of health through their drinking habits, Rush included a “Moral and Physical Thermometer.” He rated drinks from healthiest at the top (water) to most dangerous at the bottom (peppered rum), along with the each drink’s effects and outcomes. According to the thermometer, cider is a “temperance” drink which can lead to “cheerfulness, strength, and nourishment, when taken only at meals, and in moderate quantities.”

Temperance Theremometer

Benezet and Rush are not as vehement in their temperance as later generations would become. Neither is trying to outlaw alcohol in any way, appealing instead to their readers to make healthy choices. And neither think cider is a particular problem. Cider, it seems, is the only alcoholic drink they both find any value in.

NEXT TIME: Cider is no longer wholesome as Temperance gets intemperate.

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1. For “temperance” as moderation see Nathan Bailey, An Universal Etymological English Dictionary (London, 1775) and Daniel Fenning, The Royal English Dictionary (London, 1775).
2. You can find the proverb in Nathan Bailey, An Universal Etymological English Dictionary (London, 1775).   I have no idea what makes it an “excellent monition.”
3. For value of acid taste, see Benezet, 26-7.
4. Cider was also issued early in the war, but discontinued as a regular ration by late 1776.
5. Rush says cider, beer, and wine are the three most useful alcoholic beverages.

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Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider? – Colonials Outlaw Inebriation For All and Alcohol For Some

This is the next installment in our continuing series, “Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?”

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It’s easy to think that Prohibition was the first attempt to legally control alcohol consumption, but it’s not. Almost as long as there has been alcohol in America, there has been alcohol control. In Colonial America that legal control was exerted through anti-intoxication laws, dispensing licenses, and access control.(1)

Pennsylvania, for example, took intoxication very seriously. Drunkenness was officially illegal throughout the entire eighteenth century.

In 1700 the Pennsylvania Assembly passed, “The Law Against Drunknenness and Healths-Drinking.” It expressly outlawed, “every person disordering or abusing him or herself with drink unto drunkenness, and every person suffering such excess at their houses, and every person that shall drink healths [toasts] which shall provoke people to excessive drinking…” In January 1706, the Assembly passed the similar, but slightly reworded law, “Act Against Drunkenness and Drinking of Healths.” The 1779  “Act for the Suppression of Vice and Immorality,”  continued to outlaw intoxication using very similar language as the “Act Against Drunkenness,” (see Section IV). In 1786 the Assembly felt that the 1779 law was not, “fully and duly executed and enforced…” and passed, “An Act for the Prevention of Vice and Immorality and Unlawful Gaming and to Restrain Disorderly Sports and Dissipation.” Section III, yet again, stated that no one shall drink to intoxication.

This concern over intoxication spilled into taverns. We think of early American taverns as places flowing with drunken fun. They certainly were, but they were also places for public discourse, education, and entertainment. They were central to their communities and were seen as places where community standards needed to be upheld. Tavern licenses were granted to those seen as being a, “sober and fit person to keep a house of entertainment…” As specified in the tavern license, part of a tavern keeper’s job was to prevent indecent behaviors, including drunkenness, in their establishment.

Tavern License 1755

During most of the eighteenth century, tavern keepers were also to keep alcohol from Indians. 1755 Pennsylvania tavern license. Courtesy of the Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, PA.

 

Tavern License 1826

Seventy years later, Indians are no longer a concern and the wording is different. The intent remains the same though – no drunkenness allowed in the tavern. 1826 Northampton County, Pennsylvania tavern license. Courtesy of the Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, PA.

Though everyone was legally expected to refrain from drinking to excess, colonial American leaders felt they needed to limit certain people’s access to alcohol. They passed additional laws prohibiting Indians, enslaved people, servants (indentured, domestic, and apprentices), and even working class white men from having ready access to hard liquor.

Indian Prohibition October 28, 1701

“An Act Against the Selling of Rum and Other Strong Liquors to the Indians.” Passed October 28, 1701. The Charters and Acts of Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania

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A Supplementary AC T to a Law of this Province, intituled, An Act that no Public-house or Inn, within this Province, be kept without Licence.

“A Supplementary Act to a Law of This Province, Intituled, An Act That No Public-House or Inn, Within This Province, Be Kept Without Licence.” Passed August 26, 1721. The Acts of Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania.

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Iron Workers

“An Act for the better regulating the Retailers of Liquors near the Iron Works and elsewhere.” Passed March 5, 1726. The Acts of the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania.

At the same time they’re passing these laws, gentry men’s drinking habits are getting a pass. Middling and gentry men could drink whatever they wanted and to excess, often in social, all-male gatherings.

Tuesday CLub

The genteel could run riot, but no one else could. “Mr Neilson’s Battle With the Royalist Club,” attributed Dr. Alexander Hamilton. Maryland Historical Society.

Like many laws attempting to prohibit sin and vice, there was more hope than success in them. Whether at home or at the tavern, people drank what they wanted and got drunk.

NEXT TIME: The temperate beginnings of Temperance.

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  1. The majority of other alcohol-related laws covered production, sales, and taxes.

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Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider? – An Exploration

prohibition title slide

This is the first post in a series based on my talk, “Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?”

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American cider’s recent resurgence has people asking if it was so popular before, why did it go away?

Most cidermakers will say that Prohibition killed cider. Prohibition is the popular name for the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution which outlawed alcohol production. The story generally says cider was America’s drink, but Prohibition suddenly ended that.

Cider Prohibition Statements

A quick Google search turns up thousands of hits saying similar things.

It wouldn’t be until the 1990s, 60 years after repeal, that cider began its current recovery.

This timeline certainly suggests Prohibition ended, or at least interrupted, our cider culture. But it’s not a very satisfying answer. Prohibition didn’t affect our taste for beer, wine, or spirits. So what was going on? Did Prohibition really prohibit and inhibit cider?

Over the coming weeks we’ll explore how Temperance, pests, new apple products, changing popular tastes, market competition, and Prohibition influenced American cider culture.

I hope you’ll come along!

NEXT TIME: Early Americans attempt to keep drinkers in their proper place.

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Remarks on the Cyder Remarks in Franklin’s Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America

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.

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Hard Facts on the Origins of “Hard” Cider

In the last two posts we looked at the etymology of the word cider and the various spellings of cider in English. This post will look at the meaning of the “hard” in hard cider.

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

1690 1
1690 2

Freeze is cheap cider used to adulterate good wine. This definition is repeated verbatim in British dictionaries throughout the eighteenth century, including

A New Canting Dictionary, 1725

The New Universal English Dictionary, 1761

The New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, 1775

A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785

Blackguardiana; or, a Dictionary of Rogues, Bawds, &c., 1795

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

1739 A New English Dictionary

 

Samuel Johnson’s 1755 A Dictionary of the English Language has several definitions for hard, including

1755 1
1755 2

 

In 1789 Thomas Sheridan in his A Complete Dictionary of the English Language defined hard as

1789 sheridan

 

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:

1828 Webster

 

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)

New-York Packet, published as Loudon's New-York Packet (New York, New York) • 02-02-1786 • Page [2]
New-York Packet, published as Loudon’s New-York Packet (New York, New York) 02-02-1786 Page [2]

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.

1790 Hard Cyder
Daily Advertiser, published as The Daily Advertiser (New York, New York) 06-11-1790 Page [2]

The overall tone of John Woodger’s 1804 obituary suggests he preferred an exceedingly unrefined lifestyle, appropriately choosing hard cider over everything else.

1804 Hard Cyder
Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, published as Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser. (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) 12-27-1804 Page [3]

Why use good cider for vinegar making when hard “cyder” would be less expensive, as Jona Rogers advertised in 1826.

Baltimore Patriot, published as BALTIMORE PATRIOT & MERCANTILE ADVERTISER. (Baltimore, Maryland) • 06-09-1826 • Page [3]
Baltimore Patriot, published as BALTIMORE PATRIOT & MERCANTILE ADVERTISER. (Baltimore, Maryland) 06-09-1826 Page [3]

This fictional 1830 humorous piece calls hard cider “dreadful.”

Haverhill Gazette, published as Essex Gazette (Haverhill, Massachusetts) • 04-10-1830 • Page [3]
Haverhill Gazette, published as Essex Gazette (Haverhill, Massachusetts) 04-10-1830 Page [3]

One ne’er-do-well trader included hard cider among his limited and poor stock.

North American, published as The North American (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) • 04-17-1839 • Page [1]
North American, published as The North American (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) 04-17-1839 Page [1]

 

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)

New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord, New Hampshire) • 02-10-1840 • Page [2]

New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord, New Hampshire) 02-10-1840 Page [2]

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.

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  1. As the image shows, they reprinted this from the Albany Gazette. A copy of that has yet to be located. However, it began publication in 1784, not long before the Packet reprinted the cure.
  2. Following their original publication, the dropsy cure and the Mr. Longswallow piece were repeatedly reprinted in various American papers over several years. I chose not to include each reference to them here.
  3. Like hard, the word cabin had a specific meaning too. It meant a one-room structure.

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Cider By Any Other Letters Spells As Sweet

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.

sider cider 1

From A Complete Dictionary of the English Language, by Thomas Sheridan, 1789.

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.

/ər/  Sound
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.

barbosaguidelines

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.

Cider Compleat

Cyder Compleat

Sometimes it’s spelled differently within the same book. In Eliza Smith’s 1739 The Compleat Housewife, the index spells it “cider”, but it’s “cyder” in the text.

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)

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  1. In 1895 George Birdwood argued that since “cyder” was often historically spelled with a “y,” that is the correct spelling and that “cider” with an “i” was wrong. In his 1982 History and Virtue of Cyder, R.K. French used the different spellings to distinguish what he thought was a superior product from what he thought was an inferior one saying, “We are all familiar with pasteurized, diluted, bland, and carbon-dioxide-injected cider, but cyder is a living wine….”(p. 3) As the post above shows, these distinctions are an individual’s choice and not indicative of any real difference. You may noticed that on this blog I refer to the historically-inspired alcoholic apple juice I make at home as “cyder” and everything else as “cider.” It’s only because I like the historical association of “cyder” and not because I think it’s a truly separate thing.

 

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

A Brief History of English Spelling

Spelling and Standardization in English: Historical Overview

 

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The Roots of “Cider”: An Etymology

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.

Language Tree

The roots of English are nowhere as neat as this image shows. Source

 

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:

 

Cider
Modern English

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

Cisdre
Old French, Appears to be transition between Latin and later French
Alcoholic pear or apple juice

Sīcera
Late Latin, 3rd – 6th Centuries CE
Strong Drink

Related to Cisara / Cisera
Latin, Uncertain Origin
Cider
In all of the above Latin words each C is pronounced with a hard K-sound (si-kera)

Sikeraσίκερα
Greek, 3rd – 2nd Century BCE
Strong Drink

Shekhar שֵׁכָר
Hebrew, 8th – 6th Century BCE
Strong Drink

Sakarسَكَر is Arabic for strong drink. It appears in the Quran and other early Islamic texts. It’s related to shekhar, but it’s unclear if it’s the root or the descendant.

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.

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Upcoming Talk on Cider & Prohibition

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On Saturday, October 7th at 1 pm I’m presenting an original talk, “Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?” at the Sigal Museum in Easton, PA in connection with their new exhibition, The Cat’s Meow: Lehigh Valley in the Age of Art Deco & the Roaring Twenties.

Prohibition is often blamed for abruptly ending American cider, yet it didn’t change our taste for beer, wine, or spirits. Come find out how Prohibition did and did not change cidermaking in Pennsylvania.

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