Exhibition explores etymology of booze

A new exhibition by the British Council reveals the etymology of common English words that originated overseas, including “booze”.


The word booze comes from the medieval Dutch verb būsen, which means “to drink to excess”

Called The English Effect, it explores “the impact and value of the English language” with three zones, the last of which highlights English words which are sourced from other languages.

The top ten most common of such words features in this section, with “booze” coming in at number two behind “dollar”.

According to the British Council, booze was once spelt bouse and comes from the medieval Dutch verb būsen, which means “to drink to excess”.

The word first appeared in medieval English, but it is found more frequently in the 1500s, when it was used by “thieves and beggars”. It then gradually spread to general slang and colloquial use.

Meanwhile, the word “dollar” originates from the German Taler, a coin first minted in 1519 from silver mined in Joachimsthal.

Dollar occurs in English from the mid-1500s, referring to various silver coins used in the British colonies in North America at the time of the War of Independence. The word was later adopted as the US currency in 1785.

“It’s fascinating to look at how many of the words we use today have overseas roots, and what this says about the UK’s cultural ties with the world throughout history,” said Mark Robson, director of English at the British Council.

There are of course many other drink-related words in the English language which originated from abroad but don’t feature in the exhibition, and the drinks business has put together a selection of these over the following pages (and would welcome further suggestions).

The English Effect is open now and runs until 30 June this year. It is held at the British Council’s headquarters at 10 Spring Gardens, London SW1A 2BN – between Trafalgar Square and the Mall.

The exhibition is open from Monday to Friday between 10am and 4pm, and Saturday between 10am and 12pm. Admission is free.

Following its three months in London, the exhibition will embark on a tour of British Council centres around the world.

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