Posted by: Jack Henry | May 7, 2020

Editor’s Corner: A Different Kind of Flight

Wouldn’t you like to fly in my beautiful balloon? How about leaving on a jet plane? Well, today I’m here to talk about flights—but not the air voyage kind.

I was walking around my neighborhood, which has more than a few places to imbibe spirits, and I saw a sign about a “flight” of South Park beers. I’d wondered about this use of the word “flight” since the first time I heard it at a Boston brewery. Just recently, I received this article from Grammarphobia, with the answer.

The word “flight” has been used for centuries as a collective term for an airborne group of things—birds, insects, angels, arrows, even clouds.

In this usage, which began appearing in the mid-1200s, “flight” means “a collection or flock of beings or things flying in or passing through the air together,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

But “flight” as a restaurant term for a sampling of foods or drinks is much more recent, dating from the late 1970s. The OED defines this sense as “a selection of small portions of a particular type of food or drink, esp. wine, intended to be tasted together for the purpose of comparison.”

The dictionary’s earliest example, which we’ve expanded, is about a wine tasting: “There were four flights of wines, as they say in the trade, four spätleses, four ausleses, four beerenausleses and four trocks [trockenbeerenausleses]” (New York Times, March 29, 1978. The terms describe late-harvest wines of varying sugar content). [KC – My guess is maybe people felt like
they were flying after four glasses of wine.]

The OED also has this example in which the “flight” is a selection of edibles: “They turned the dinner into a smoked salmon tasting…. Each flight of the tasting was garnished differently” (Washington Post, Dec. 14, 1983).

We’ll end with a flight of alcoholic examples from the OED.

“An inviting line-up of the famous single malt whiskeys available in tasting flights” (Sydney Morning Herald, June 17, 1997).

“The tasting bar offers three to six flights of wine in several categories: classic, prestige, all white, and all red” (Wine Lover’s Guide to Wine Country, by Lori Lyn Narlock and Nancy Garfinkel, 2005). [KC – I guess they forgot the Thunderbird and Manischewitz categories. “Our corner store offers fresh flights of wine, including blackberry and cherry.”]


Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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