• julep •
ju-lêp • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Water sweetened with sugar or syrup, used as a pleasant vehicle for bitter medicine. 2. A mixed drink consisting of brandy, whiskey, or other spirit, mixed with sugar, ice, and some flavoring, usually mint.
Notes: In the US, we know this word only from the phrase "mint julep". This is a phrase we associate with a vision of a plantation owner sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of his stately, columned mansion, nursing a mint julep. In recent times, we have come to connect it to the Kentucky Derby, where the sweet alcoholic mixed drink has become the Derby's official drink.
In Play: Although cloyingly sweet, mint juleps are also alcoholic: "How many mint juleps had Julie had before she kissed the horse on the lips in the winner's circle at the Derby?" According to Kinahan Cornwallis in A Panorama of the New World (London 1859), "San Francisco was all bustle and illumination, with glittering bars filled with julep drinkers."
Word History: Spectators at the Kentucky Derby not only watch horses of Arabian ancestry, they watch them while holding a drink with a name of the same ancestry. English, as ever, borrowed this word directly from French julep, the descendant of Medieval Latin julapium. But the travels of today's word did not begin there. Latin based its word on Arabic julab, borrowed from Persian gulab "rose water". Gulab is a compound composed of gul "rose" + ab "water". The sense of a flavored alcoholic drink was first recorded in 1804. (Let's all now raise a mint julep to salute Mac McWethy, the contributor of today's Good Word.)
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