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. 🙂

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…


© Sue Archer at Doorway Between Worlds, 2015