Archaic Definition of the Week – Xeres

xeres (ZER-es) sherry
_his grandmother’s late-afternoon spot of xeres

Endangered English Dictionary: Bodacious Words Your Dictionary Forgot by David Grambs.

Nelson’s sidebar note: This word is actually more of an etymology, as Xeres is the former name of the town of Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, from which the fortified wine originated.  How Xeres became sherry, “ZER-es,” and Jerez is quite an interesting linguistic journey.

At the time this fortified Spanish wine became popular in the Anglophone world, Spanish orthography (writing) used the letter X to represent the sound for which we use the combination “sh” in English.  Thus “sherry.”

However, the initial X in English has long been pronounced /z/ as in “xylophone.”  Thus the adapted pronunciation of xeres above as “ZER-es.”

Over time, the Spanish X shifted from /sh/ to its current /kh/ sound which is also covered by Spanish J.  Thus, remembering that S and Z are pronounced the same in Spanish, we get Xeres renamed Jerez.

This old-style “sh” X in Spanish represents the original pronunciation of “Mexico,” from the Nahuatl place name pronounced /mé-shih-ko/.  This is why Mexican-Americans refer to themselves as “Chicano/Chicana”: it’s a shortened form of “Mechicano/Mechicana” which attempted to preserve the original Nahuatl /sh/ sound with “ch” when Spanish X shifted from /sh/ to /kh/.

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