Sinking Spanish bock

Spain has often been a (reluctant) Francophile, so it should surprise none but heartless materialists that–with an assist from Google Print’s OCR–“Napoleon had beer in secret correspondence with Charles [IV]’s son.” I knew that German technology took over from French after its successful demonstration in 1871, and I’d heard all about the post-WWII triumph of the Frankfurter, something which German saloon bar economists like to refer to as Adenauer’s Wurstschaftswunder. But it was good to find out that, as well as buying Bayer to cure their hangovers, Madrilenians were drinking German beer at the turn of the nineteenth century. Or not.

Blasco Ibáñez’th La horda (1905) has poor scholar Maltrana in a Madrid beerhouse swigging bocks with the aristocratic literati-farti set. We all think that bock is strong, often dark beer with high wort content brewed for winter and other times of the year when falling around is seen as helpful. However, the DRAE says that bock (also spelt bok, as in Dutch), although German, is used here simply as a measure of volume, a quarter litre, and the Davies and RAE corpses don’t seem to contradict it.

I guess what happened was that German bottled bocks turned up here in the late nineteenth century, and that the container of the thing contained acquired the name, perhaps even to the extent that “Two bocks!” would get you two quarter litres of normal beer. Then, since there seem to be no records of usage after the 30s, the Franquista “clean up our language” campaign may have kicked in, and furrin beer words were kicked out, which might explain why the use of cerveza negra for dark beer is from the 30s on. (Catalan dictionaries appear not to list the word at all. This surprises me, because Catalonia was probably the biggest importer of German products. However in retrospect it’s just as well, because otherwise it would surely be in the sights of today’s language police.)

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