Sunday, December 20, 2015

Latin Words and Phrases Worth Knowing About: Meribibula

In his Confessions 9.9.18, Saint Augustine recounts the story his mother had related to him about how she became an alcoholic. While there are other ancient discussions of drunkenness, this is arguably the oldest extant report of someone describing alcohol addiction as such.

So Monica was regularly sent by her parents to get wine from the cask. And she was at first averse to the fluid. But she began to wet the tips of her lips with wine. She worked her way up to drinking a glass every time she was sent to deliver some. And this evolved finally into a serious habit.

It happened that one day she went to get some wine, was drinking a portion before preparing the delivery, and an ancilla, a slavegirl, of the household, who had observed the problem for some time, called Monica out. She called Monica a:


Merum is the Latin word for pure wine, id est, wine with no water added. Presumably, the word vinum implies merum with water as well.

The verb bibere means 'to drink'. 

So the compound adjective meribibulus, meribibula, meribibulum means "Pure Wine Drinker."

Well, Monica was so affected by this "insult" that she swore off drinking ever after, apparently becoming the first historically verifiable recovering alcoholic. 

Pray for us, Saint Monica. I admit that I also am quite fond of the fruit of the vine and the drink it produces. Sicut dixit filius tuus, "Da mihi continentiam."

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