A word you could almost say while swallowing. Come, take a good drink: nognognognog… Naturally, for most people, this word goes neatly with egg. It doesn’t hurt that it rhymes with grog, sounds a bit like glögg and may seem like a condensation of nutmeg. Ah, those guzzling, glugging g‘s – whether from glass, mug or jug, have a big swig and try not to gurgle. On the other hand, if you think this word sounds like a wedding of knob and peg, it so happens that it’s also a word for a cylindrical piece of wood. That version of the word, however, comes from knag or knagge, meaning a short spur from a tree trunk or branch – the k gave a suitable snag. There’s also a South African nog, which is short for nogal (stress on the second syllable), which means “what’s more” or “besides,” but the g in this case is a voiceless velar fricative, and it has nothing to do with drinks, nogal. The nog we drink is another thing… among other things, it’s not clear where it comes from. Oh, we had an idea, you know, but that was last night at the party, and no one wrote it down… Um, it may have something to do with noggin, a small drinking vessel or measure, but no one knows where that’s from either… It might be related to the northern Scottish nugg, which is ale warmed with a hot poker, and that in turn might be related to knag (see above)… or not. Or maybe it’s related to Norwegian nugge, “nudge” (what they do to you to see if you’ve had too much? probably not). One thing’s for sure: nog originally, and still in some parts of England (e.g., Norfolk), is strong ale. So we know that eggnog is supposed to have alcohol in it – if you left the rum or brandy out, you’d be unhistorically abstemious, and participating in yet another meaning shift, nog.

8 responses to “nog

  1. man, the word nog has been bugging me for years, and frankly I don’t think you’ve helped any. We really should look into the manufacture of alternate nogs, (hey, spellcheck doesn’t even recognize “nogs.”). and soynog doesn’t count.

  2. Also, I might suggest “nougat” as a relative. Distant, maybe, but also creamy, sweet, and nearly the same colour.

    • Oxford gives us this for nougat:

      < French nougat (1750; 1694 as nouga; late 16th cent. in Middle French as nogat, (plural) nogas) < Occitan nougat (a1675), variant of Old Occitan, Occitan nogat < noga nut (< classical Latin nuc-, nux nut: see NUT n.1) + -at (< classical Latin -{amac}tum -AT suffix). Compare Catalan nogat (a1450 in this sense; 1324 in sense ‘nut sauce’), Spanish nuégado (1429; compare nogada sauce made of nuts and spices (1495)), Portuguese nogada (17th cent.), nogado.

      So it comes from the nuts in it, and via the Romance languages, whereas nog seems to be Germanic. The sweetness and colour would seem to be coincidental, although a person with a mind to phonaesthetics might wonder whether there’s some kind of influence there, however nugatory. (Now there’s a word to taste… must add to my to-do list…)

  3. Makes sense. The thing about nog that freaks me out the most is that from french the literal translation is “chicken milk”.

  4. This just in: more reason to keep the alcohol in eggnog: it seems to reduce bacteria.

  5. Pingback: Good for You! » just to egg(nog) you on…

  6. Pingback: holiday | Sesquiotica

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