hist-brewing: Barm, Hefe, Yeast, etc.

Donald Beistle dbeistle at arches.uga.edu
Wed May 12 08:41:21 PDT 1999

It is interesting to note that the archaic (now extinct?) English word
"barm" comes from the same root that gives us the verb "bear," meaning to
lift or carry. Likewise, the familiar German word "Hefe" (as in _Hefe
Weizen_) comes from the same ancient Germanic verb that survives in
English as "heave," meaning, well, to heave, lift or bear up. "Barm" and
"Hefe" thus are the Germanic equivalents of the Latinate "leaven/-ing,"
(cf. English "lift,' 'lever') which refers to any substance that can make
dough rise.

The English word "yeast" originally referred to the head of foam that
appears atop fermenting ale, beer, cider, mead, or what-have-you. Modern
German "gischen" (to foam) and "Gischt" (foam, froth, spray) preserve this
sense. The Dutch and Flemish words for that friendly fungus (jist/gist?)  
that turns wort into beer are similarly derived. Why the Low Germanic
languages have favored the foam-word and High German has favored the
leaven-word is beyond me. The too-obvious answer would link this
phenomenon with ale vs. lager fermentation (i.e. Is the magic ingredient
on the top or on the bottom of the tun?), but I doubt this would be valid.

Philologically yours,

Donald Beistle
Athens, Georgia

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