06 November 2011

Thinking of Beer and Bread

I live in Germany, so I think a lot about bread and beer. Okay, I do more than think about them. In my view, these two food groups form the basis for all human progress.

Perusing a recent Biergarten menu, I started musing on one of the beer options: Weizen. I know that Weizen = “wheat” in English. (You've heard of wheat beer, right?) I also know another way to order the same thing is to ask for a Weissbier. Weiss, or weiß, means “white” in English.

So, do “white” and “wheat” share the same root? Seems like they should, if you think about it.

Here’s what my OED reveals (I’ve truncated the entries, which in full reveal interesting Indo-European cognates, but you can click on the words to go straight to the full OED entries):

Wheat: O.E. hwæte "wheat," from P.Gmc. *khwaitijaz, lit. "that which is white," from *khwitaz-, the source of O.E. hwit, whence English “white”.
White: O.E. hwit, from P.Gmc. *khwitaz, from PIE *kwintos/*kwindos "bright".

What do we learn from this? The next time the Denny’s waitress asks if you want “white or wheat”, you can answer “yes”.

You’ll still be a smart-ass, but you’ll be a smarter one knowing the close linguistic kinship of these two words.

You’re welcome.

- o - o -

PS. Reminder: Etymological abbreviations here.


  1. Ha! I had actually thought about this one before, but not so eloquently. We do differentiate "Whole wheat" bread, but who wants to order "bleached wheat" bread? It needed a different word. :)

  2. Good point! My last names looks similar, Wiese, which means "field or meadow". My German ancestors were farmers, perhaps growing weizen in den wiesen, and I presume that's how they got their name - related to their occupation. Heffeweizen is my favorite beer and I'm glad it's so plentiful here!