ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

Where does the word "wine" come from?

—Jose R., Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Dear Jose,

Let me put on my etymology hat. And pay attention, because there are plenty of crossword answers below.

"Wine" comes from the Old English word "win" (which is pronounced like "wean"). The Old English form was descended from the Latin "vinum," or as the Romans wrote it, "VINVM." "Vinum" in Latin seems to be related to the Latin word for vineyard, "vinea." But I've also read that "vinum" can mean "vine" in Latin too. If that's not far back enough for you, it appears that this Latin version was based on non-Indo-European languages such as Arabic, and their word "wain," or the Hebrew word "Yayin."

Now, it's not clear if the Latin to Old English was a direct line; it could also be a variation of a word that seems to be present in all Germanic languages. (Etymologists must argue about this all the time.) There's the German word "wein," Icelandic "vin" and so on. But the Germans and Celts were native beer drinkers, so they probably got the word from the Romans.

Many also believe that it comes from the Greek word "oinos," from the Greek god of wine, Dionysus.

Perhaps the most interesting tidbit from my research? The term "wine snob" was first recorded in 1951.

—Dr. Vinny


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