What’s in a name? Is it whiskey or whisky?

imageI published this on my other blog, BadLanguage.net, but I thought readers of this blog might find it interesting too because it explains how I came up with the name for the site.

It replaced earlier sites of mine, including HappyLandings.net (which sort of worked but I didn’t have the .com domain name) and ModernPilot.com (which was supposed to be a magazine but didn’t really take off in terms of readers or advertising).

How not to pick a good name

I wanted a name that was good for a flying blog but which reflected the idea that I would be reviewing pilot-friendly golf courses, hotels, restaurants and pubs near airports as well as writing about aviation in general and my own flying experiences in particular.

Of course, ‘golf’, ‘hotel’ and ‘whiskey’ are from the phonetic alphabet used by pilots so I hoped that would say something about aviation. They also have the double meaning of golf courses, hotels and drinking which reflected the intention of the site.

However – big lesson, this – ‘clever’ names don’t work. While most civilians sort of get the joke when I explain it, pilots seldom do. I don’t know why this is but there you are. My name mystifies my primary audience. D’oh! But at least I got the .com domain and I do like my logo very much.

Whisky or whiskey?

There was also the flood of complaints (well, one, actually) about the choice of ‘whiskey’ rather than ‘whisky’ without the ‘e’. This offended a Scotland-based reader. As P.G. Wodehouse famously remarked, “it is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.” (Seriously, I love Scottish people and I want to make that perfectly clear before the tartan taliban force-feed me to death with deep-fried Mars bars.)

In fact, I registered domain names with and without the ‘e’ to catch accidental misspellings of the site name. But I choose ‘whiskey’ because that is the spelling used in the phonetic alphabet. It seemed more ‘pilotey’.

Repeat history

The evolution of the word itself is interesting. This is what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

The word "whisky" is believed to have been coined by soldiers of King Henry II who invaded Ireland in the 12th century as they struggled to pronounce the native Irish words uisce beatha [ɪʃkʲə bʲahə], meaning "water of life". Over time, the pronunciation changed from "whishkeyba" (an approximation of how the Irish term sounds) to "whisky". The name itself is a Gaelic calque of the Latin phrase aqua vitae, meaning "water of life".

At one time, all whisky was spelled without the "e", as "whisky". In around 1870, the reputation of Scottish whisky was very poor as Scottish distilleries flooded the market with cheaper spirits produced using the Coffey still. The Irish and American distilleries adopted the spelling "whiskey", with the extra "e", to distinguish their higher quality product. Today, the spelling whisky (plural whiskies) is generally used for whiskies distilled in Scotland, Wales, Canada, and Japan, while whiskey is used for the spirits distilled in Ireland and America. Even though a 1968 directive of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms specifies "whisky" as the official US spelling, it allows labeling as "whiskey" in deference to tradition and most U.S. producers still use the historical spelling. Exceptions such as Early Times, Maker’s Mark, and George Dickel are usually indicative of a Scottish heritage.

In the late Victorian era, Irish whiskey was the world’s most popular whisky. Of the Irish whiskeys, Dublin whiskeys were regarded as the grands crus of whiskeys. In order to differentiate Dublin whiskey from other whiskies, the Dublin distilleries adopted the spelling "whiskey". The other Irish distilleries eventually followed suit. The last Irish "whisky" was Paddy, which adopted the "e" in 1966.

"Scotch" is the internationally recognized term for "Scotch whisky" however it is rarely used in Scotland, where blended whisky is generally referred to as "whisky" and single or vatted malt whisky as "malt".

In many Latin-American countries, whisky (wee-skee) is used as a photographer’s cue to smile, supplanting English "cheese". The Uruguayan film Whisky got its name because of this.

So, there you are. Whiskey is also the high-quality version of the name. Cheers!

One Response to What’s in a name? Is it whiskey or whisky?

  1. Mungo January 18, 2010 at 13:06 #

    I like this article a lot Matthew, especially the reference to Irish whiskey being "the water of life". This is in contrast to my Scottish friends who invariably refer to their fine locally-brewed whisky as being "Scottish falling down water".

    So I guess which you choose for an evening tipple depends on what position you want to end up in later on.

    May I just add a note about a popular misconception about drinking whisky?

    Firstly, never add ice as chilling the spirit saps its flavour. Secondly far too many people drink it straight, i.e. without water, believing that it is somehow wrong to dilute the spirit.

    Unless you add water, you will never attain the taste as intended by the distiller, as the strength of the spirit will overpower the tones in the finer malts.

    How much water is of course a matter of taste, but I prefer about half and half, sometimes a little more water than whisky depending on the malt.

    Blimey, I now feel rather thirsty!

Leave a Reply