Rogue Words from A to Z: Quest for the Quintessential Quaff

A to Z Letter QTrue story: Back when I was in high school, a friend of mine wrote a short fantasy story as an assignment for her creative writing class. One day she comes up to me in the hall, the very picture of outrage, and stabs her just-marked story with her index finger. “Look at this!” she says. Next to the word quaff, the teacher had written an X with the note, “Not a real word.”


Those of us who have read fantasy stories or acted out roleplaying games with tavern drinking scenes (who, me?) may have encountered the word quaff. To quaff means to drink deeply. Or to drink in long drafts. Or to drink “copiously and repeatedly.” My dictionary tells me this word has been around since the sixteenth century. So yes, I’m fairly certain it is a real word.

When I think of quaff, I picture Thor enjoying his mead in Valhalla by draining it to the bottom and then thumping his tankard on the table.

Or maybe movie Thor enjoying his first taste of coffee when he is banished to Earth.

Quaff, to me, is a word reserved for fabulously tasty drinks that must be inhaled. Only quintessential drinks should be quaffed.


What exactly does quintessential mean? Even authorities can’t agree. Merriam Webster defines it as “constituting, serving as, or worthy of being a pattern to be imitated.” Oxford tells us it is “representing the most perfect or typical example of a quality or class.” How can the same word mean both “worthy of imitation” and “typical”?

I believe the key meaning lies in the noun quintessence. In ancient philosophy, quintessence was a fifth element (beyond the four elements) that formed the celestial bodies and permeated all things.

To be quintessential, then, is no small thing. I think the mead of the gods in Valhalla is a good example.

But if you don’t like mead, you can always go for another quintessential drink, the famous Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. Just be careful! Otherwise you might have to cut your quest short before you even leave the tavern. ๐Ÿ™‚

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy also mentions alcohol. It says that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, the effect of which is like having your brains smashed out with a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.

– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


Mango juiceWhat quintessential drink do you like to quaff? I am partial to a glass of fresh mango juice (credit).

Unless otherwise noted, definitions are from the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

This post is dedicated to Jaso and Shelley Sackier. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will righteously rumble with the renegade letter R…


ยฉ Sue Archer at Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

36 thoughts on “Rogue Words from A to Z: Quest for the Quintessential Quaff

  1. Loved the title! Can’t believe a creative writing teacher didn’t know quaff! I know someone (in the same stage of life as your friend here) who quaffed beer out of a shoe…true story. My quintessential drink is water, and I’ve been known to quaff tea. Leenna

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever used either of these words in my writing, certainly not quaff anyway, since I’ve never heard of it. As for my choice of beverage to quaff, I’ll take some tea, please. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Of course, my favorite beverage is water. And the Lady can’t believe a writing instructor didn’t know “quaff.” She uses quaff quite often, as in “This wine isn’t anything fancy, but it’s perfectly quaffable.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi, Fee! Thanks so much for coming by and commenting. It is bizarre. I was surprised that the teacher didn’t at least look it up. And so nice to meet a fellow lover of pina coladas! I’m a fan of fruity rum drinks in general. ๐Ÿ™‚


  4. I have been known to quaff a beer or two. The only example of such ignorance from a teacher that I can remember was one who taught my sister in her early years of school. Her story about “My family” came back with Anabel corrected to Annabel all the way through! Now I know mine is not the most common spelling – but the teacher might have expected a child to know her own sister’s name, or at least should have checked.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh no! These days there are so many unusual spellings of names that I would hope no one would question them. Your poor sister, I can just picture her trying to justify it to the teacher and being told she was wrong!


  5. Oh, remembered another one. Aged 7/8 I concocted a paragraph with my version of phonetic spelling. Stayshun for station and so on. I got into trouble from the teacher and was told never to do it again. I thought that was quite smart actually, and I didn’t deserve to be crushed. Despite that, I am a big fan of teachers – and these days they tend to be much better at encouraging creativity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would have loved to read that! It’s too bad you weren’t recognized for the effort and supported.

      I do have great respect for teachers in general – and especially those who teach younger children. I don’t know how they have the patience. And some of them are downright inspiring for their kids. My early teachers encouraged my creativity, and that’s why I kept writing. ๐Ÿ™‚


      1. I worked with trainee teachers for a long time (as a librarian in a teacher education faculty). I was always in awe of their commitment and enthusiasm. When I look back at my own (1960s) primary education it was the dark ages in comparison.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Nick! The unfortunate thing was that the teacher wouldn’t back down, even when proven wrong by my friend via a dictionary. Her mark stayed the same. I would have hoped that better knowledge in this case would have been more important than pride.


  6. Douglas Adams is truly–was truly–will always be in my opinion–one of the most exemplary humor writers of all time. It was a book I introduced my children to as early as they were able to talk so that they could quote him to friends and strangers whenever I found an appropriate moment and gave them a cue. Horrible huh? But god, it was adorable and the best party trick ever.
    Discovering from you that quintessential is related to the 5th element has sparked further curiosity, as weirdly enough, a boatload of writers have been writing and posting this month about time travel, multiple universes and all things Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Must be something in the water, which, although quite quaffable, ain’t whisky. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Great post, Sue!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You and your whiskey, Shelley! Clearly I need to gain a better appreciation for this beverage. I suspect I’ve only had the cheap stuff. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I can just picture your kids quoting Adams. He has a sense of the zany that has never left me. And it sounds like you’ve been reading a lot of cool mind-expanding stuff this month. I look forward to hearing your take on it in one of your fabulous posts! ๐Ÿ™‚


    1. I am okay with a teacher not knowing a word, it happens to all of us! But it was too bad that the teacher didn’t look it up and check it before correcting a student.


    1. You know, I hadn’t thought about it, Sonia, but you’re right that it used to be around in fantasy books a lot and not so much these days. I guess I have read a lot of the classics in the fantasy genre.


  7. Mmmm, I love quaffing down chai tea. Can’t get enough of the stuff. I hope I never have to stop due to stomach ulcers! (Sorry I fell behind on your posts! Catching up now!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chai tea is my favourite tea! I don’t quaff it, though, since I’m a wimp when it comes to hot beverages. Sipping is the way to go for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

      And I need to catch up on yours, too – glad there’s a weekend coming up!

      Liked by 1 person

Please join the conversation...I'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s