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June 15, 2011

Word of the Day

  • absinthe
  • audio pronunciation
  • \AB-sinth\


: a green liqueur which is flavored with wormwood, anise, and other aromatic herbs and commercial production of which is banned in many countries for health concerns; also : a liqueur resembling absinthe

"I guess they'll put her out of here, too -- she's getting to have crazy fits, from drinking absinthe." -- From Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel The Jungle

"Many a writer or artist has longed to travel back in time to the sizzling Paris of the 1920s, to sip absinthe with Hemingway at Les Deux Magots or dine on choucroute garnie with Picasso at La Rotonde." -- From an article by Joseph Berger in The New York Times, May 28, 2011


In 1797, Swiss Henri-Louis Pernod was the first to commercially produce an alcoholic drink from the bitter herb Artemisia absinthium, known commonly as wormwood. By the mid-to-late 1800s this bright green distillation, by then known in both French and English as "absinthe," had become wildly popular, especially among artists and writers, but it also had a reputation for making people a little wild. In fact, it was linked to several nasty disorders, including convulsions and foaming at the mouth. The accused culprit? A toxin in wormwood -- perhaps the very chemical that gives the plant its tapeworm-exterminating properties (and thus its name). Because of these reported side effects of wormwood, true absinthe was banned in many countries (including the U.S.) in the early 1900s, but that didn't remove the taste for the drink. Wormwood’s name was later cleared (the real culprit turned out to be the drink’s high alcohol content) and the absinthe ban was lifted in the U.S. in 2007.

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