25 February 2012

Beer and the Bible, sort of...

Back to the wonderful topic of beer, I was thinking about two words that crop up sometimes in beer styles here in Germany: Urtyp (“original type”) and Urquell (“original source”, as in “source of water”, like a spring). The ur- prefix means “original”. Then I remembered another German word, Ursprung (“origin”) and its adverb, Ursprünglich (“originally”).*

You can’t help but notice the similarities between ur- and or- in English “original”. Easy to imagine they come from the same source (pun intended).

So that got me thinking about the origin of origin. It struck me that the three major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) trace their roots to Abraham. And Abraham traces his roots to... Ur, as in Ur of the Chaldees or Chaldeans. (Check your Genesis, 11:31.)

Could Ur (which seems to be a common prefix in Mesopotamian place names) be the origin of our word origin? Time for a trip to my OED.

Results? Not as clear-cut as I’d like. I’ll spare you the details**, but essentially origin (“rise, beginning, source”) led me to originate (“bring into existence”) led me to original (“from L. oriri, to rise”) before something interesting cropped up with orchestra, which comes through Greek from the PIE *ergh- “to set in motion, stir up, raise”, from root *er-/*or-.   Er...in other words, the PIE root *er-/*or- has to do with starting up, beginning, or rising up (like a spring) from the earth.

Seems like my attempt to link beer with the Bible are coming to nought. Ergh! Unless we can somehow delve into Sumerian place names and figure out whether their ur- prefix is related to the PIE root *er/*or. Which I can’t.

But it is a bit of fun imagining Urians playing pick-up football in the hot sun against the visiting Babylonians, chilling with a brewsky afterwards. I imagine one of them scratching his head, looking at the bottle, and asking “What are we gonna call this?”

- o - o -

*Interestingly -- to me, at least -- the German quelle and spring/sprung root both relate to our English spring as a source of water.

** The Details:

origin: early 15c., from M.Fr. origine, from L. originem (nom. origo) "rise, beginning, source," from stem of oriri "to rise, become visible, appear". [Let’s try originate.]

originate: yadda yadda (see original).

original: early 14c., from L. originalis, from originem (nom. origo) "beginning, source, birth," from oriri "to rise" (see orchestra).

orchestra: c.1600, "area in an ancient theater," from L. orchestra, from Gk. orkhestra, semicircular space where the chorus of dancers performed, with suffix -tra denoting place + orkheisthai "to dance," intens. of erkhesthai "to go, come," from PIE *ergh- "to set in motion, stir up, raise" (cf. Skt. rghayati "trembles, rages, raves," L. oriri "to rise"), from root *er-/*or- (cf. L. origo "a beginning;" Skt. rnoti "rises, moves," arnah "welling stream;" O.Pers. rasatiy "he comes;" Gk. ornynai "to rouse, start;" Goth. rinnan, O.E. irnan "to flow, run").


  1. well.... beer must be linked to the Bible since monks invented it... :) That's pretty fascinating about Abraham and Ur. Neat word study!

  2. If you want beer in the Bible, check out the story of Lot which is a shaggy dog Sumerian pun on woman, salt, and beer mash. The name Lot could be short for lahtan - beer vat.