whis·key also whis·ky (wĭskē, hwĭs-)
n. pl. whis·keys also whis·kies
1. An alcoholic liquor distilled from grain, such as corn, rye, or barley, and containing approximately 40 to 50 percent ethyl alcohol by volume.
2. A drink of such liquor.
[Shortening and alteration of USQUEBAUGH.]
Word History: The words water, whiskey, and vodka flow from a common source, the Indo-European root *wed-, "water, wet." This root could appear in several guises, as *wed-, *wod-, or *ud-. Water is a native English word that goes back by way of prehistoric Common Germanic *watar to the Indo-European suffixed form *wod-ōr, with an o. Whiskey is a shortened form of usquebaugh, which English borrowed from Irish Gaelic uisce beatha and Scottish Gaelic uisge beatha. This compound descends from Old Irish uisce, "water," and bethad, "of life," meaning literally "water of life." (It thus meant the same thing as the name of another drink, aquavit, which comes from Latin aqua vītae, "water of life.") Uisce comes from the Indo-European suffixed form *ud-skio-. Finally, the name of another alcoholic drink, vodka, comes into English from Russian, where it means literally "little water," as it is a diminutive of voda, "water"—a euphemism if ever there was one. Voda comes from the same Indo-European form as English water, but has a different suffix: *wod-ā.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.