How Many Nicknames Does Liquor Have?

Generally speaking, liquor is something with multiple facets. Some regard it as a “sage”, a “saint” or “the soup of highest wisdom” that inspires people; some see it as a friend, amiably calling it “the householder of qu (fermented grains)”, some drink it as a “mad drug” to boost their courage… Each nickname is an expression of liquor with the drinker’s mood hidden behind.


Back in the old days, some would say “the liquor bug is biting me”, the term “liquor bug” actually refers to liquor itself. Bai Juyi, a great poet of the Tang Dynasty, wrote in his poem Inviting Liu Shijiu, “Green ants are floating on my fresh, unfiltered rice wine,…” So what exactly does “green ants” mean? It turns out that due to the immaturity of liquor-making technique in ancient times, fermented liquor could not be completely filtered, so the fermented grains would float on the surface, which looked like little bugs. Therefore, “green ants” referred to the fermented grains and sometimes the liquor itself. The slang term “liquor bug” correspondingly emerged. In addition to “green ants”, people gave liquor many other nicknames such as “spring ants”, “cured ants”, “floating maggots”, “jade maggots” and so on. It was also a way of people being modest about their liquor-making skill, as if to say “My liquor is not very good. You can see distilled grains and foams still floating on the surface.”


There are many sayings about liquor’s nicknames in history, and plenty of them were quite interesting. The advantage of giving liquor a nickname is that when you call it, it is attached to your own feelings and insights. No matter it is euphemistic or direct, refined or vulgar; this nickname is a unique code only you and a certain group of people can understand. The insiders will immediately be aware that you are talking about liquor even you do not mention a word related to it.


In ancient China, different kinds of liquor were collectively referred to as the Chinese character “ ”, which means “aged wine” according to Discussing Writing and Explaining Characters (Shuowen Jiezi), an ancient Chinese dictionary from the Han Dynasty. Almost all Chinese characters with “” as the radical are related to liquor in meaning. To be specific, the character “” refer to mellow wine with high alcohol content, “” refers to thick wine with high turbidity, “” refers to sour liquor and “” refers to thin and bitter liquor.


As the old saying goes, “only the drinker knows how to dispel the effects of alcohol”, you might find out new charm and new taste of liquor when you know about more nicknames and stories behind it.


Source Reference: Moutai Magazine - International Edition Issue 31