to portal for traditions & customs top of this page
Wine, Names of Wine & Wine Pest + Leonardo da Vinci's vineyard + Cryptolects
We had good wine some time ago right down at water's edge of Lake Averno, the place of the fabled descent into the Inferno (from the name "Averno," by the way). Our host told us that his vineyard and a few others down along the slopes of the lake and in a few other places in Italy produced unusual wine for this day and age in Europe; this is because they enjoy the same soil characteristics (having to do with nearby volcanoes and other subterranean goings-on).
Such locations remained immune to the devastating wine pest that spread though European vineyards in the late 1800s. The disease was the result of the Phylloxera aphid, which wiped out many European vineyards. As it turned out, the roots of American vines were immune to Phylloxera, so European wine makers grafted their vines onto American roots to make them less vulnerable to the disease. That saved the European wine industry. But at Lake Averno, we had some good grape that never had to be revived. The gentleman showed us a vine that he claims is 250 years old. It is a solid, almost tree-trunk-like affair as it comes out of the ground and is the mother vine for the entire vineyard. I don't know if "mother vine" is legitimate terminology. The Italian word is vitigno, which they distinguish from the smaller, secondary vine —vite— that runs through the vineyard and actually sprouts grapes. There seem to be two words for "vineyard," as well: vigna and vigneto. I don't think there is a difference.
I had not set out to learn anything about Phylloxera. I started out looking for strange names of wines, and, as usual, wandered off into a thicket of miscellany. The most unusual name for a wine I have ever heard belongs to a German wine. It is called Croever Nacktarsch, which is translated euphemistically as "bare bottom," but the term in German is as vulgar as anyone who can read English might imagine it. Croev is a town on the Middle Moselle between Zell and Traben Trarbach in Germany. The label of the wine shows a small boy being spanked on his bare behind by the inn-keeper, who has just caught the lad down in the cellar doing some pre-pubescent wine tasting.
My vote for the most amusing name for an Italian wine goes to Est! Est! Est! —Latin for "This is it! This is it! This is it!" It seems that in the year 1111, Henry V of England was on his way to Rome to be crowned by the Pope. In his entourage was one Giovanni Deuc, a lover of fine wine. Near Montefiascone (not far from Lake Bolsena, near Orvieto, in central Italy). Giovanni sent his servant, Martin, ahead to scout the potential for bibbing. The instructions were, "When you find the good stuff, scrawl 'Est!' on the door of the tavern, so I know where to stop." Marty was so impressed with one vintage that he waxed redundantly enthusiastic and emblazoned "Est! Est! Est!" on the door. Giovanni apparently drank himself to death right on the spot. He left money to the town of Montefiascone to commemorate his fatal binge: every year, a bottle of Est! Est! Est! is poured on his tomb, where there is still the legible inscription: "From too much Est!, here lies my lord, Giovanni Deuc." I hope that's a true story; anyone who would make that up must have been drinking.
In the Naples area, the most interesting name for a wine is Lachryma Christi (Tears of Christ). It is produced on the fertile slopes of Vesuvius. The wine is so named because it is here, they say, that Lucifer was cast out of heaven, causing Christ to weep. The funniest name for a local wine comes from Ischia, where they drink Pere 'e palummo, dialect for "Foot of the dove," so called because the ruby-red color of the stems of the vine recalls the coloring of that particular bird's foot. A likely story? Maybe.
added Nov. 2019 Leonardo's Vineyard
"So, Monna (sic!), a drinky-winky? Here, let me put my...my (hic!) brushes down...anyone seen... HEY! you kids!...
...get off my lawn! ... get off my helicopter! Huh? Why, you little punk!... wait'll I... (hic!)...oh, now I've fallen...
...that's some wrathful grape...help me up, will you, dear... Monna, why don't...you (hic!) ... come sit on uncle ...Leo's lap ...merciful Heaven!...cover yourself, my sweet... history is watching..." [more on Monna/Mona here]
The very latest in wine news. Sorry, it's nowhere near Naples, so it's a good hike but well worth it! La Vigna di Leonardo (Leonardo’s Vineyard) is in Milan and is the place where Leonardo grew his grapes for making wine. He liked wine —no, he loved it. “The divine liquor of the grape,” he called it. Who knew? The vineyard was a rectangular plot, 60 by 175 meters, next to the convent of Santa Maria della Grazie. Here's where you come in! Oenologists (winos with lots of letters after their names) have reconstructed not only the vineyard, but the wine, itself! Yes, indeed! Leo duh Wino's own sauce! They found some roots and ran genetic testing. Leo's grapes were Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, still grown in Italy. So, O yea! they grew the grapes; O yea! crushed them with someone else's feet, made the wine and got their first harvest in September 2018; and, yea and hurray, it's ready to drink. The first 330 bottles are to be auctioned off. You can't afford to bid. But you can tour the vineyard (open since 2015), look at some paintings and get a sip of... ...I don't know, but it has an aggressive but not presumptuous bouquet that we think will amuse you, of which Leonardo da Vinci, himself — yes, the Power Potento of Rinascimento! — the Fightin 'n' Smitin' Titan of Tuscany! — the Most Gallant with the Most Talent — yes, He might have said, "How much?! For this swill?! Monna (sic! & hic!), sweetie, let's beat it. Ixnay on the iptay!" After a very rich person buys the first lot, he or she will then sell you a bottle. Again, don't ask.
"Wouldn't you like to know."
I have been asked (seriously!) whether Leonardo really spoke Pig Latin, as in the expression "ixnay on the iptay", which I used (above). I might have added to the dialogue by having him say "Etslay amscray." Dear Mr. Seriously, are you "utsnay?"
A "cryptolect" is a secret (or hidden, or coded) language, meant to conceal what you are saying (or writing) from others for a variety of reasons. Children use such devices as a game, and adults use them to hide their speech from young children. It's not always that frivolous. Robbers use cryptolects to confuse cops; the Navajo code-talkers used a very complicated and successful version of their language against the Japanese in WW2; Cherokees used their language in WWI; and drug runners in Mexico have been known to use Mayan.
The term ixnay (which I used, above) is particularly interesting since "nix" is not an English word. It's a World War II American G.I. mispronunciation of the German word nichts ('nothing' — from nicht/not). It became current in general U.S. speech after the war even as a simple verb — "that was nixed" (rejected). Thus ixnay is Pig-Latinized G.I. pseudo-German slang. If that sounds complicated, it is.
some examples: Verlan, Polari, Shelta, Rhyming Slang
Cryptolects depend of some variation of a legitimate word, such as moving a letter, adding a syllable, or even reversing words, such as in the French cryptolect Verlan. That word, itself, is verlan for Lanver, or l'envers, the reverse (and so forth: métro -->tromé ; laisse tomber -->laisse béton - (drop or stop it). (Another example of backslang entails saying an entire phrase or sentence backwards — do to easy that isn't which!
Polari began as a cryptolect used in the nineteenth century by carnival workers and other entertainers, and in the 1950's became an in-group cant used by London fishmongers and later widely by male homosexuals (for whom a language incomprehensible to outsiders afforded a measure of protection. Polari shows influences of the earlier medieval sailors' and merchants' lingua franca pidgin. Shelta or Travellers' Cant, sometimes also called Gammon is a secret dialect of Irish spoken by the nomadic, itinerant Travelling people. A bit more sophisticated cryptolect might just imply the hidden word. The best-known (which is self-defeating!) cryptolect of that kind is probably Cockney Rhyming slang: "Have a butcher's" means "Have a look" because "look" rhymes with "butcher's hook." And we "razz" people (at least you do!) because the rude sound you make with your lips supposedly sounds like the noise produced by flatulence, which word rhymes with "raspberry tart." Some of the expressions are now so well-known that there is not much crypto left in the lect. So, around the world and arguably in every language someone is trying to hide something from others. Even the deaf, whose native language may be some form of sign language, have secret signs.
Leonardo da Vinci's contribution to all this was the way he wrote — upside down and backwards. Not him (he was reportedly upright much of the time), but his script. It has been called "mirror writing" but that is only half of it, the horizontal part. If you write (using all caps for the sake of simplicity!) I SEE YOU and hold the paper up to your bathroom mirror, you see UOY, then EES with the letters all backwards, then the letter I. (I know there's an app that will do this!) But the sentence, itself, and letters are only backwards, not upside down. Obviously, you'd need something like a Maksutov double refracting eye-piece in a lateral Newtonian configuration (which Leo also invented and keeps in his helicopter) somewhere in your bathroom. In any event, the letters I, O, and X are upside-down and backwards, anyway you look at them, so if you stick to those three, you'll do all right. Leo wrote that way, I guess, because he didn't want people to steal his stuff.
Although he did not speak Pig Latin he likely spoke some form of the most common Italian children's cryptolect, called farfallino ("little butterfly") in which words are encoded by inserting after the first letter of each syllable the letter f + the vowel. Thus, "Ciao, come stai?" (Hi, how are you) becomes: "cifiafaofo, cofomefe stafaifi?" Very fluent speakers, such as my neighbor's little girl can achieve escape-velocity speed in farfallino. In theory, you could write this, and if you are Leonardo, you would write it upside-down and backwards.
Note: All of these cryptolects are quite normal in most languages, from the word-games of children to the jargon and cant of professions to convoluted rhyming slang. I have not touched upon the unusual (and possibly abnormal) form of speech termed "crytophasia" or "ideoglossia"* — for example, the secret language of about 40% of twins. It is a real phenomenon. Only the two of them can understand what they're saying. It generally fades away and is abandoned by the age of five or 6.
*[This information comes from The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, second edition, by David Crystal, Cambridge Uni Press, 1997, p.249.]