Posted by: Jack Henry | September 23, 2016

Editor’s Corner: All for Me Grog

Monday was International Talk Like a Pirate Day. If you missed the boat on this year’s celebration, here’s a joke to lift your spirits.

Q: What is a pirate’s favorite drink?

A: Grog (assuming he’s looking for something stronger than an ARRRnold Palmer).

Grog makes many appearances in pirate fiction. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 adventure novel Treasure Island, Captain Billy Bones calls the inn where Jim Hawkins works "a pleasant sittyated grog-shop." Later, when Jim joins the Hispaniola’s crew, he remarks, "[T]here was never a ship’s company so spoiled since Noah put to sea. Double grog was going on the least excuse."

In the folk song "All for Me Grog" (first written down in 1929, but popular with sailors before then), the narrator laments his lost boots and shirt, which he sold "all for [his] jolly, jolly grog."

Few people drink grog these days, which raises the question: What is grog, anyway?

Like the Arnold Palmer (named for golfer Arnold Palmer), grog is an eponym: a thing named for a person. In this case, the person is 18th century British naval officer Admiral Edward "Old Grog" Vernon.

Vernon got the nickname "Old Grog" for the grogram coat he wore. In 1740, when Vernon ordered that his sailors’ daily allowance of rum be diluted with water, the resulting mixture was named for him. In 1795, the Royal Navy added lemon juice and sugar to the sailors’ rations. This improved the taste, and the vitamin C prevented scurvy.

Pirates went ashore more often than sailors, and scurvy was less of a risk. They tended to leave out the lemon juice and add nutmeg. They called their version bumbo. Merriam-Webster suggests that bumbo might come from Italian bombo, a child’s word for drink.

Grog has mostly been replaced by the daiquiri (basically the same drink), but Vernon’s memory lives on elsewhere. George Washington’s half-brother, Lawrence, served under Vernon in the War of Jenkins’ Ear and named his estate "Mount Vernon" in Old Grog’s honor.

Edward Vernon by Thomas Gainsborough

National Portrait Gallery, London

Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar®
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