There are 26 ounces in a standard bottle of liquor. There are 26 letters in the alphabet. I’ll drink to that.

In fact, I decided to make it easier for everyone to drink to that. I set up a little store in where you can buy shotglasses, one for each letter of the alphabet, each one with a word, so you can also use them as teaching aids (yeah, right): A is for apocolocyntosis, B is for bahuvrihi, C is for cataskeuastic, D is for deliquium, E is for esoterogeny, F is for floccinaucinihilipilification, G is for glossolalia, H is for haruspex, I is for isogloss, J is for jildi, K is for kjerulfine, L is for littérateur, M is for monoubiquitination, N is for nudibranch, O is for onychophagia, P is for polyphloisboian, Q is for quux, R is for rocococity, S is for splanchnic, T is for tergiversation, U is for unununium, V is for vellicate, W is for whippletree, X is for xylyl, Y is for ytterbium, and Z is for zurrukutuna. Alas, the prices are not quite as cheap as souvenir store prices, so I doubt anyone will collect the whole set. But, then, people don’t often drink a whole bottle of liquor in successive shots in one event, either. If you did, you would probably very soon find yourself face down in bed, proofing your sheets.

Shotglasses do make nice little souvenirs. Not too expensive, quite easy to fit in your luggage, and capable of displaying to whoever might see it that you (or someone you know) visited the location or event thereon named. They are also handy in bars for measuring liquor (in those places where, by law, liquor has to be precisely measured) and selling shooters – which are an excellent profit centre for bars. And of course they’re good for selling shots of liquor. Hence the name.

The full course of coming into being of the word shotglass is disputed, and there are a variety of inane invented etymologies, which I will do you the favour of not sticking into your mind. But we do know that a short measure of liquor was being called a shot before the name shotglass (or shot-glass or shot glass) was ever known to have been used. And when did shotglass come about as a name? By 1940, but likely in the 1930s.

That’s right. Those “old west” images you have of cowboys or prospectors slapping down a nugget or a bullet (or several – whiskey wasn’t that cheap) and getting a modern-looking shotglass of whiskey in exchange are in need of correction. The saloons likely didn’t bother carrying special glassware for the small quantities, and if they did, the glassware – called a pony or jigger at the time (and still) – was slightly different in shape. The tapered, thick-bottomed glass we see now is really a post-Prohibition thing.

This word, shotglass, seems almost too long for its object, which is quite a short glass. Shotglass has two syllables! Nine letters! The measure in a shotglass (an ounce or an ounce and a half) can be downed in the time it takes to say either syllable of it – the time it takes someone else to say either syllable, of course. You shouldn’t try to speak while you’re tossing back a shot.

But it is a nice word nonetheless. It slides in and slides out on voiceless fricatives, and it has a sharp joint in the middle that seems rather like an act of swallowing – you could think of it as like the liquor pouring into the mouth (sho), being swallowed (tgl), and pouring down your throat (ass). That swallowing also swallows the /t/. Just try saying the word clearly, with a properly said [t]. Because of the /gl/ after it, it’s just a lot easier to reduce the /t/ to a simple glottal stop – which, right before a [g], becomes an equivalent of a [k], really.* Shotglass is said just the same as shockglass would be.

And why not. What you swallow from a shotglass is probably a shock to the system. Oh, it might not be liquor; it could be espresso. That’s a nice, strong little dose, too. We know that whatever’s being served that way will have some punch to it, some amount of aggression in the image. To drink larger amounts of alcoholic beverage rapidly, you might shotgun it. If you have a shot of hot chocolate, it’s a thick, dark, spicy brew. You can think of having a shot of tea – if you picture slugging back some very strong black tea. A shot of chamomile tea just seems very incongruous to me.

There is another thing called a shot glass, by the way. In weaving, one passage of a shuttle across the web is called a shot. And if you use a magnifier to count the shot – to count how many threads there are in some fabric – that magnifier can be called a shot glass, though it’s more often called a linen proofer.

For me, the usual pattern of usage does not involve proofing linen through a shot glass. It involves drinking 80-proof from a shotglass (not 26 ounces in one session), and then hitting the linen later. Which is actually an inspiring idea for me right now.

*What’s the difference between /t/ and [t]? The slashes mean a phonemic transcription – the sound we think we’re saying. The brackets mean a phonetic transcription – the sound we’re actually saying, which may or may not be the same.

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