A Melchizedek of champers: 9 word facts about champagne
It’s always difficult to say “Hello!” to January and “Good-bye…” to the holidays. Suddenly we find ourselves bogged down by the usual January blues—not to mention subjected to Blue Monday’s annual arrival — and burdened by certain debts after all that sweet and savory celebrating. Cookies, cakes, candy…butter cast haphazardly into every bubbling pot or whirring food mixer…and all capped off with a good dose of champagne come New Year’s Eve!
If it is going to be a while before you pop the next champagne cork, and you want to stave off those January blues, here’s a list of 9 interesting (and 0-calorie) champagne-related word facts to help you last until your next fix of bubbles.
1. The word champagne is derived from Latin campania, first used to describe the level open countryside around Rome. It now refers to a province in northeast France where the champagne grapes are grown, as well as to the wine itself. Latin campania is a derivative of campus, originally meaning simply a field; now in English, ‘campus’ denotes the grounds of a college or university.
2. Bubbly, a common nickname for champagne, is short for the now rare bubbly water. However, the wine was not always bubbly; up through the 19th century champagne was known largely as a pink, still wine. Any bubbliness posed difficulties: the wine would stop fermenting during the cold winters and then re-ferment in the spring, resulting in a release of carbon dioxide that tended to break the bottles. Eventually, the development of stronger bottles meant that drinkers could enjoy the sparkle that would become a defining characteristic of champagne.
3. The word bubble comes from the noun burble (also meaning a bubble), which comes from the now-obsolete verb burble, meaning to form bubbles; it’s probably onomatopoeic, a theory which makes sense if you imagine the sound of bubbles forming and popping , for example, in boiling water.
4. Speaking of onomatopoeias, another word for champagne (as well as any sparkling drink) is fizz; the noun comes from the verb fizz, a word which is purely imitative of the sound it represents.
6. You can also call champagne by the abbreviation sham. Compare also shampoo, an arbitrary alteration of the word.
7. If you’ve heard of champagne—or have 50 Cent or Jay-Z in your MP3 player—you’ve probably heard of Dom Pérignon, the prestigious brand of champagne often enjoyed by the rich and the famous. It’s named for Dom Pérignon, a Benedictine monk of the 17th century who contributed largely to the improvement of (still) Champagne wines during his lifetime. “Dom” was not his first name, by the way; instead, it’s a title (short for the Latin Dominus, ‘master’) given to certain distinguished Benedictine and Carthusian monks.
8. If you really want to impress your friends, tell them pre-toast that the champagne you’re about to enjoy is brut or demi-sec: two French words designating the taste of the wine. Brut champagne is unsweetened; the word brut means ‘rough’ or ‘raw’. (It’s related to the English brute, or ‘a savagely violent person or animal’, and comes from the Latin brutus meaning ‘dull, stupid’—just ask Julius Caesar.) Demi-sec, on the other hand, indicates a medium dry (or moderately sweetened) wine. We see a relative of this word in the German sparkling wine Sekt.
9. Have you ever seen one of those enormous bottles of champagne in a store window (and felt a hangover coming on just from looking at one of them)—40 times the size of a standard wine bottle? One of these enormous bottles is called a Melchizedek, named for the king and priest of the Book of Genesis who blesses Abram; his name literally means ‘my king is righteous’. Indeed, there are many different sized bottles of wine—from 0.1875 liters to 40—and, curiously, most are named for Biblical figures like Melchizedek. (Half a Melchizedek is a Nebuchadnezzar, for instance, and a fifth of a Melchizedek is known as a Methuselah.)
However, if it seems a bit too indulgent to pop another cork this year—or if (heaven forbid) you “get no kick from champagne” at all—it’s important to remember what can truly banish the January gloom: friends. (Especially friends who are happy to be regaled with tales of Benedictine monks and unexpected cognates at the next champagne-drinking opportunity!)