I know it’s only February, but I’ve decided to announce my Wine Word of the Year. I don’t expect to find a more interesting one in the next 10 months, not even if ‘pivot’ turns out to be a typo of a grape variety – ‘Opposition disgusted by PM’s pinot’.
Language is, of course, as alive and ever-changing as wine itself, and like wine, sometimes refreshingly simple and direct, and sometimes imensely, immensly, immensely complex and hard to spell. It’s no coincidence that the word ‘sick’, sometimes spelt ‘sic’, applies to poor judgement in both disciplines.
My Wine Word of 2021 is on a ruthless journey of self-reinvention. It’s always been a wine word, has smashable. But for centuries it was merely content to provide a warning about the fragility of wine vessels – and sometimes the inadvisibility of drinking their contents.
Back then, a smashable wine meant, no point drinking it, just hurl it against a brick wall. Simple and direct consumer advice. Now it means something similar, but different. No point thinking about it, just hurl it against your back palate.
Fair enough for a simple and direct wine when we’re in a simple and direct mood. But why such an aggressive and violent word? Why not gluggable? Swillable? Dry-cleanable? (Very important when smashing reds.)
Smashable. Am I alone in sensing anger here? Possibly because these days the simple and direct $10 wine being smashed actually costs $37 retail, $92 off a wine list? And because we’re now reading that four standard drinks a week will kill us, which makes me cross even to think about. (A few years ago I was smashing a pet-nat, and it came back down my nose and blurred my phone screen, and I thought the news report said 400 drinks a week.)
Or am I confusing anger with bacchanalian abandon? That deep yearning we all have to leap the boundaries of civilisation and our over-conditioned psyches, even just for the few seconds it takes us to drink a bottle of wine.
No, I’m probably overthinking this. It’s much more likely that smashable has simply become a contronym – one of those fascinating and useful words that also mean the opposite of themselves. Democracy, for example.
When I was a little English kid, an aunt of mine arrived one day and said, ‘Sorry dear, didn’t have time to get you an Enid Blighton book for your birthday, here’s a bottle of sherry instead.’‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘Smashing.’
It was my first foray into linguistic complexity. My first ever use of two different meanings of the same word at the same time. If only my teacher had been there.
As it turned out, though, I was exaggerating. The sherry was indeed smashing, but not smashable. It took me two days to drink it all.