Drunk Catholic History: Spirits and the Holy Spirit
Ever wonder why we call alcohol “spirits”? After all, “spirit” can refer to:continue at One Peter Five
And when spirit is associated with anything physical, it is usually not something wet like alcohol but something dry. Indeed, “spirit” is derived from the Latin spiritus (meaning breath, air, or gentle wind), and in the early Church it was used to translate the Greek pneuma and the Hebrew ruah, both of which also mean wind, breath, or spirit.
- the human soul, either in whole or in part;
- an intelligent creature with no material body (angels and demons, or if you are getting fanciful, sprites, nymphs, and so forth);
- the Third Person in the Holy Trinity;
- courage or gumption;
- a defining quality, such as “the spirit of a place.”
How, then, did air become hooch? One theory popular on the Internet is that “alcohol” comes from the Arabic al-kuhl, a “body-eating spirit.” The problem is that al-kuḥl actually means “eye cosmetic,” which was once made in a way that loosely resembled the distillation of alcohol.[i]
In the English language the first instances of “spirit” were derived from passages in the Vulgate translation of the Bible mentioning spiritus and were therefore in conformity with biblical usage. “Spirit,” in other words, had a largely spiritual meaning, something in contradistinction to worldliness, materiality, literalness, etc. Tied to this usage were other qualities of the soul, such as courage, mental vigor, or liveliness.