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Anti-fogmatic

Two centuries ago, some Americans believed that an anti-fogmatic, a dose of spirituous liquor, would relieve the unhealthy effects of damp and rain. A dram before breakfast was said to counteract the figurative or literal fog of the early day, hence its name. It was even supposedly recommended by physicians:

Its great utility in preserving the planters from the effects of the damp and unwholsome air of the morning, has given it the medical name of an Antifogmatick.

The Massachusetts Spy, or the Worcester Gazette, 12 Nov. 1789.

The writer of a letter in 1812 to the delightfully named New York magazine, the Halcyon Luminary and Theological Repository, was critical of any possible medical advantages:

Some of my neighbors were in the practice of taking a morning dram, well known in the lower counties of Virginia, by the term anti-fogmatic, but I perceived that this did not charm away disease from their houses, though its effect on their rationality was evidently injurious.

Much similarly sarcastic writing was directed at its ingestion, though a book of 1825 that claimed Bostonians habitually guarded against the New England fogs by taking an anti-fogmatic of half a pint of whisky before breakfast was spinning a tall tale. However, a travelogue of 1810, which recorded some splendid contemporary names for tipples, implied that an anti-fogmatic was a prescribed aperitif:

Speaking of the Virginians, he gave us the following specimen of their dram-drinking. A gum-tickler is a gill of spirits, generally rum, taken fasting. A phlegm-cutter is a double dose, just before breakfast. An antifogmatic is a similar dram before dinner. A gall-breaker is about half a pint of ardent spirits.

Travels Through Lower Canada, and the United States of North America, by John Lambert, 1810.

Lambert noted that anybody who had progressed to gall-breakers was regarded by his neighbours as a lost soul not expected to live another six months. No surprise in that.

In the first edition of The American Language in 1919, H L Mencken wrote that anti-fogmatic was by then extinct. Not utterly, though I can count its written usages in the period since on the fingers of one hand. Any appearance today is merely a mildly humorous hint of an earlier age, though opaque to most people. This is a recent case, the one that started me on this linguistic exploration:

Whatever time of day or night you arrive at Hawksmoor, there’s always a drink to sort you out. In the morning, it might be an “anti-fogmatic” such as their Marmalade Cocktail: gin, Campari, lemon juice, orange bitters and marmalade.

Observer, 20 Oct. 2013.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 16 Nov. 2013

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Last modified: 16 November 2013.