MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Do We Call It “Eggnog”?

You probably had eggnog over Christmas. (Heck, you probably still have some eggnog leftover in your fridge right now).  But while it’s definitely delicious, why is it called “eggnog”?

The “egg” part doesn’t really need an explanation, does it? Eggs are the foundation of eggnog, with their yolks usually being combined with other elements like milk, sugar, alcohol, and spices before whisking in beaten egg whites. But what about the “nog” part? Well, eggnog’s second syllable isn’t quite as straightforward as its first, but we can look to some old-fashioned words for its potential genesis.

First, there’s the Noggin Theory. Before it became a slang term for “head”, “noggin” described a small drinking container like a cup/mug. The word “noggin” actually dates back to at least the late 1500s. Then, by the mid-1600s, people were using noggin to describe what went into a noggin (which was usually liquor or spirits). Robert Louis Stevenson even mentioned it in Treasure Island in the early 1880s.

Then, there’s the Nog Theory. It’s possible that “eggnog”, which first entered the lexicon by way of an 1825 John Neal novel, arose directly from noggin, since eggnog did contain liquor & you’d usually drink it from a small mug. But by the late 1800s, “nog” had begun showing up as a word of its own, as it was a potent type of beer from Norfolk, England. While today’s eggnog traditionally features liquor, “posset” (the medieval milk drink that inspired eggnog) could also contain ale or wine. Still, it’s not really clear where the word “nog” truly originated. And even if eggnog was inspired by nog, noggin was probably still part of its creation.

And there’s the Grog Theory. In 1740, British admiral Edward Vernon ordered his sailors to start diluting their rum ration with water to avoid consuming their entire allotment all at once. The admiral’s men referred to their leader as “Old Grog” because of the rough silky fabric he wore as part of his uniform, which was called a “grogram”. So, as a jab at the admiral, the sailors co-opted his nickname & began referring to their watered-down drink as “grog”. Interestingly, Treasure Island also mentioned grog, too, which has led some to suggest that eggnog is actually just a truncation of “egg” & “grog.”

I’m not sure what would be more confusing to a server nowadays: ordering a mug of “egg-and-grog”, or asking them to give you a “nog”. Wherever the delicious drink’s name came from, enjoy what’s left of your eggnog & what’s left of 2023!

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