Whiskey or Whisky?

WC Fields with Mae West

WC Fields with Mae West

“Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.”

–W. C. Fields (1880-1946)

  ———-

I wonder if W.C. Fields enjoyed Scotch, Canadian, American or Irish whiskey?

By simply observing the spelling of whiskey in his quote, we can quite possibly surmise that Mr. Fields enjoyed an American or Irish beverage; if he preferred the Scotch or Canadian version, the correct spelling would be whisky.

The words whiskey and whisky are derived from the Gaelic words meaning “water of life”:  uisce beatha in Ireland and uisge beatha in Scotland, both pronounced something like whishkeyba.

There’s a much storied and debated history regarding the usage of whiskey versus whisky. Until the late 1800s, all whisky was spelled without the “e.” At that time, Scottish whisky suffered a loss of reputation because it was made using a cheaper production method, so the Irish and American distilleries added the “e” as a mark of distinction.

Whiskey is still used today for spirits distilled in Ireland and America, and whisky is used for those distilled in Scotland, Wales, Canada, and Japan.

Curiously, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms specifies whisky as the official U.S. spelling but allows the use of whiskey in deference to history and tradition.

Further reading on the subject is available here, here and here.

– Posted by Kathleen Connally who was delighted to learn that in Latin-American countries, photographers use the word “whiskey” instead of “cheese” as a way to get their subjects to smile.

– Photograph courtesy of Dr. Macro

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