May 10

Whisky Or Whiskey Why Are There Two Spellings Article

Originally, the distilled spirit was known as uisce beatha in Irish Gaelic and uisge beatha in Scottish Gaelic, both of which mean ?water of life,? a term borrowed from Latin (aqua vitae). (Note that even in the beginning, there was a one letter difference in spellings depending on which country you were from – Ireland or Scotland.) Over time and the development of the English language from middle to modern, it became whisky.

In the 12th century, King Henry II invaded Ireland. His soldiers had a hard time pronouncing the liquors’ true pronunciation. Their best approximation was whishkeyba. By 1583, the Gaelic spellings had evolved to iskie bae, then developed to usquebea by 1706. As English superseded Gaelic as the more commonly spoken language on what is now the British Isles and Ireland, the modern English spelling of whisky became the common one. That spelling stuck until the late 19th century, when the market was flooded with cheaply made, poor tasting Scottish whisky produced using the Coffey still rather than the traditional, preferred, pot still method. To differentiate themselves, starting in about 1870, Irish and U.S. distilleries began using the spelling whiskey. To this day, most of the distilleries in Scotland, Wales, Canada, and Japan, use the spelling whisky, while most of those in Ireland and the United States spell it whiskey.

Some countries have gone so far as to codify into law the appropriate way to spell the alcoholic drink. For instance, in the United States, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) issued a directive in 1968 stating that whisky is the official U.S. spelling. Recognizing the tradition that began in the 19th century, however, the ATF also permitted the alternate spelling of whiskey.

So, whether you spell it whisky or whiskey, you’re right. No need to argue, just enjoy another glass of malt.


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