Origin of the Term “Booze”

DionysusToday I found out the origin of the term “booze”.

The first references to the word “booze” meaning “alcoholic drink” in English appear around the 14th century, though it was originally spelled “bouse”.  The spelling, as it is today, didn’t appear until around the 17th century.

The word “booze” itself appears to have Germanic origins, though which specific word it came from is still a little bit of a mystery.  The three main words often cited are more or less all cousins of each other and are very similar in meaning and spelling.  One of the words came from the Old High German “bausen”, which meant “bulge or billow”.  This in turn was a cousin of the Dutch word “búsen”, which meant “to drink excessively” or “to get drunk”.  The Old Dutch language also has a similar word “buise”, which translates to “drinking vessel”.  It is thought that the word “bouse” in English, which later became “booze”, has its origins in one or more of those three words, with most scholars leaning towards it coming from the Dutch word “búsen”.

Bonus Facts:

  • The origin of the word “booze” is often mistakenly credited to E. C. Booz, who was a distiller in the United States in the 19th century.  However, as noted above, the term, including with the spelling “booze”, predates E. C. Booze being a manufacturer of alcoholic beverages.
  • The adjective form of “booze” is “boozy”, which means “drunkenly” with the adverb form with the same meaning being “boozily”.
  • In New Zealand, around the 1940s, a drinking binge was called a “boozeroo”.
  • Archeological evidence suggest that the earliest known purposefully fermented drink, specifically beer, was made all the way back in the late Stone Age around 10,000 BC, making it one of the earliest known prepared food substance along with bread, which also dates back to around 10,000 BC.
  • The earliest references to wine being made are found in Egypt around 4000 BC.
  • Beer was brewed on a daily basis in a typical Ancient Egyptian home and was a staple food item, along with bread.  The Ancient Egyptians considered beer to be a necessity of life.
  • The earliest evidence of purposefully fermented alcohol in China date back to 5000 BC, with the drink, at that time, made from fermenting rice, honey, and fruit.  During the Paleolithic times, alcohol was considered a spiritual food in China, rather than a physical food.
  • As with many other cultures where drinking alcoholic beverages was common such as China, Babylon, Greece, etc,  the Ancient Egyptians stressed moderation in drinking.  While many of these cultures didn’t have specific laws against drunkenness, it was strongly discouraged and looked down upon for various reasons.  The Greeks in particular were generally known for their temperance and avoiding excess of any kind, not just with drinking.  The main exception to this with the Greeks was the followers of Dionysus, who believed intoxication brought them closer to their god.
  • One famous follower of Dionysus was the mother of Alexander the Great, who was known for her frequent public drunkenness.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the various Native American tribes had numerous forms of alcoholic beverages they brewed, long before the “white man” came to the Americas; thus, “fire water” was not introduced to the Native Americans by the “white man”.
  • During the 1500-1800s Catholic, Protestant, and even Puritans taught that alcohol was a gift from God and was created by God to be used in moderation for the pleasure of man and to aid in health.  Drunkenness was viewed as a sin, as it often is even today, but it’s only been relatively recently in Christianity that drinking in general has been considered sinful.  This change took place primarily due to the increased concern over the negative effects of drunkenness among the church, beginning around the 18th century.

*Note: this article was by request from Today I Found Out reader Ernesto.  If there is anything you’d like to know or something you already know that you think is interesting and not commonly known, feel free to send me an email and if I think it’s something worth doing an article on, I’ll do the research and write an article on it.

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  • Actually, I thought “booze” came from “bouza”, which is ancient Egyptian beer, which is still currently drunk all around north Africa. I read about this in the book “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Ellix Katz. He references this article as a citation: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a921825487. (For those who are college students, you can usually look up the journal name on your college library’s website, and download the article for free.)

    • There is no imaginable vector by which an ancient Egyptian word could descend to late medieval English vernacular. The transfer from late medieval Dutch is highly likely given the number of Dutch/Flemish drink-related words that arrived at that time along with hops. Firkin and Kilderkin are but two. Bausen would also be cognate with modern bowser or tanker.

  • Actually, E.C. Booz was an distiller in the second half of the 19th century. An original E.C. Booz bottle can be worth $1000 or more.

    But you are correct that his name had nothing to do with the word booze, despite the common misapprehension.

  • James Boos-Waldeck-Price

    My ancestor was Hans von Boos-Waldeck. He won a village in a bet by draining a riding boot full of Rhein wine in the 15th century. He’s been credited with the source of the word Booze, as that is exactly how Boos is pronounced in German. Their are many versions of poems about this ignoble feat.

  • thats my real ame…. am i named after a famous booz? my dads name clinton george booz… grandpa, edward

  • The actual reson people refer to the term “Booze” as alcohol is because my great great great grandfather was a glass blower and made bottles used for bootlegging, on the bottom of the bottle it would read “ezoob”. Wich if you read that looking through the opening on the the top of the bottle it read “booze”. My family has a great and interesting history. Thank you for reading and your welcome if this helped anyone out.

  • Typo in Bonus Fact #6: “Beer was brewed on a daily bases” should be “Beer was brewed on a daily basis”