Monday, June 24, 2013

The Schooner the Better

How about a nice schooner of ice-cold ale?  That sounds refreshing on a warm summer day—but what, you ask, is a schooner?

Originally it was a small sea-going vessel, with sails fore and aft, and one or more topsails.  The first such ship was constructed in the early 18th century.  No one quite knows why it was called a schooner, but the prevailing story, as told by the Oxford English Dictionary, is that when one was launched, about 1713, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, a spectator cried “Oh, how she scoons!”  The ship’s builder, Captain Andrew Robinson, replied, “A scooner let her be!” Scoon is a dialectical word of Scandinavian origin that means “to skim or skip across the water.”  The h was added to the spelling of schooner somewhat later, probably by analogy to the word school. 

None of the so-called experts will hazard a definitive opinion  on how the word became applied to a glass for beer. Apparently it was first used in that sense in America in the 1870s for a tall glass approximately double the size of a regular tumbler.  Some  think it has to do with the way spirits were served in the Royal Navy, which served drinks in two measures, the smaller clipper and the double-measure schooner. The British have since adopted the term schooner as a precise measure for beer and ale, equal to 14 ounces.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou regards 14 ounces as a “sip,” an uncounted number of which he knocks back before setting one syllable on paper. 

            A convention of hot-air ballooners 
            Hoisted a few rounds of schooners, 
            They got pretty high, 
            But not in the sky, 
            And a few of them turned into mooners.

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