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Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day 231

The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was first published at the end of the eighteenth century, and given that the current health crisis is giving too much time to read books, I thought I’d pick a daily word from it until I got bored….

Nyp, or Nip

And back to alcohol with this definition, “a half pint, a nip of ale: whence the nipperkin, a small vessel”. As someone who usually drinks half pints (decent craft beer or real ale should ideally have enough taste or flavour to ensure that’s enough to be getting on with, preferably before trying a different one) this is relevant to me as well. Although, today (and my friend Nathan who is more of a beer expert – with a special focus on irrelevant stuff – will likely know) a nip is probably better defined in terms of spirits, or with beer, as a third of a pint.

Back the nipperkin which Grose mentioned in this definition, Wikipedia says this:

“The nipperkin is a unit of measurement of volume, equal to one-half of a quarter-gill, one-eighth of a gill, or one thirty-second of an English pint. In other estimations, one nip (an abbreviation that originated in 1796) is either one-third of a pint, or any amount less than or equal to half a pint. A nipperkin is also one-eighth of a pint of beer or any other liquor.”

Firstly, Wikipedia is wrong (who would have thought….) as the nipperkin dates to at least the early seventeenth century, although it wasn’t in common usage until the early eighteenth century (that 1796 reference is likely to Grose’s book). Secondly, imperial measures really are a bloody nightmare…..

The word is likely from the German verb ‘nippen’, meaning to sip, with some dictionaries suggesting that the word ‘nipperkin’ entered the English language before the word ‘nip’. I’m not convinced about that…. Either way, it’s clear that the word nip (or nyp) has meant entirely different amounts of liquid over the years. As an experiment, I’d suggest that if someone tried to order a nip at a beer festival, they’d probably be given a taster. At a bar, they might get confused looks, but I doubt they’d get a third of a pint or even half a pint….