bitter

Definitions

General English

  • adjective angry because something is not fair
  • adjective causing great disappointment or unhappiness
  • adjective cold and unpleasant

Agriculture

  • adjective referring to something which has a sharp taste, and is not sweet

Food

Travel

  • noun British beer, made bitter by adding hops

Wine

  • one of the four basic tastes sensed by taste buds along the sides and very back of the tongue. It can indicate high levels of tannin, which has a bitter taste, or wine that has not yet matured; a dominant bitter taste indicates a fault with the wine, whereas in sweet wines a trace of bitterness can balance the wine. The other three tastes are salty, sour and sweet.

Origin & History of “bitter”

Old English biter appears to have come from *bit-, the short-vowel version of *bīt-, source of bite. Its original meaning would thus have been ‘biting’, and although there do not seem to be any traces of this left in the historical record, the sense development to ‘acrid-tasting’ is fairly straightforward (compare the similar case of sharp).

It seems likely that the bitter of ‘bitter end’ comes from a different source altogether, although in its current meaning it appears to have been influenced by the adjective bitter. A bitter was originally a ‘turn of a cable round the bitts’, and a bitt was a ‘post on the deck of a ship for fastening cables to’. It is not clear where bitt came from, although it was probably originally a seafarer’s term from the north German coast, and it may be related to English boat. Thus in the first instance ‘to the bitter end’ probably meant ‘to the very end, as far as it is possible to go’.
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