Monday, October 20, 2008

Nips, naps, and caps.

I have a new word today – new for me that is. I was reading about the old profession of ale-conning (that’s not the word, yet). An ale-conner was an officer appointed to assess the quality of beer and ale. Now, I know that many of you feel superbly equipped to do this job, but you are no longer required, it has been taken over by laboratories. There was an apocryphal story – I think about Shakespeare’s father who was, according to the apocryphal story, an ale-conner – that says that the way the strength of the ale or beer was determined was by pouring some ale onto a bench, then sitting down in it for a while in leather trousers. The expert determined the sugar content depending on how well the leather stuck to the beery seat. That’s about as apocryphal a story as you can get.

Of course, the ale-conner did it by taste, as the following story tells. It is about an ale-conner in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, by the name of Captain Cox. The story says that he was “of such credit and trust” that he had retained the job for many years “and ever acquitted himself of such estimation, as yet, to taste of a cup of nippitate, his judgement will be taken above the best in the parish, be his noze near so read.” I think the last word should be “red.”

My new word of the day is nippitate. Any of you heard it before?

The OED says it is a form of nippitatum, a mock Latin word meaning “ale or other alcoholic drink, of the highest quality and strength”, and dates its use to the sixteenth century. The word’s origin is unknown, but it may be related to the later word nipperkin or perhaps nappy. A nipperkin is also of obscure origin, but appears to come from Dutch and means a little drink and a small measure (less than half a pint) for the little drink. It is a grand way of saying a nip, in other words. We are in the land of obscure origins well and truly, and nappy is also one of its citizens. It refers to the head or nap of the beer or ale – a nappy beer being a strong beer. So, nippitate is as another old dictionary says, a whimsical word. An alternative whimsical word for the same thing is huff-cap (because it goes to your head, and figuratively speaking it huffs or raises your cap.)

Beer Soup.
Take equal quantities of beer and milk (one quart of each); mix two tables-spoonfuls of flour with a little of the beer, and add it to the remainder with the grated peel of half a lemon, half a teaspoonful of powdered ginger, cinnamon, or nutmeg, and sugar to taste: boil the milk separately and stir it rapidly with a whisk into four well-beaten eggs; put the beer with the milk into a saucepan, bring it to the point of boiling, keeping it well stirred all the time, and turn it quickly into a tureen. Serve with toasted rolls. Sufficient for twelve persons.
Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery. c1870’s

Quotation for the Day …

When this nippitatum, the huffe cappe, as they call it, this nectar of life, is set abroach, well is he that can get the soonest to it, and spend the most upon it.
Stubber’s Anat. of Abuses.

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