Om Groggy, Mon!

I muttered to myself one early morning that I wasn’t up to my usual 4 a.m. perkiness. “Why am I so groggy?” I wondered, having gotten to bed at the usual 9 pm the night before.

And thereafter, as they sometimes do, this odd and seldom-used word kept going round and round in my muddled, plodding pre-coffee brain. Groggy. Grog. Grogged. Hmmm.

I couldn’t pull out any Latin roots for such a word, and it didn’t sound Greek, either. But then, words don’t just appear like mushrooms on a wet lawn overnight. They have histories of usage, and, at least for a time, have specific references to historical people or events or culturally-relevant behaviors and such. I set about to understand more about this lethargic lassitude that had overcome me overnight.

And what a packed word GROG turns out to be, rich with nautical history, the object of three hundred years of elaborate naval ritual–especially among the “limeys” who used citrus in their mixture of rum and nasty ship’s water (a combination that became known as GROG).

The tradition, complete with whistles and flags calling the shipmen to the ceremony every day persisted, it turns out, until the grog ration was discontinued in 1970. Interesting that after the British conquest of Jamaica in 1655, rum replaced an initial allotment to each sailor of a gallon of beer a day! (Plain water, after all, went stagnant onboard ship for months at a time.) No wonder sailors have such a reputation as hard drinkers!

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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