The Hangover - New Years, Veisalgia and Toskà

Jan 1, 2010

Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink
Isaiah 5:11.

The sun is shining in a new year and on a new decade. But for most of us around the world, especially the morning after a New Years party, there is only sleep and grief.

According to, the 'sober' medical term for hangover is veisalgia. The word is a combination of the Norwegian kveis meaning 'uneasiness after debauchery' and the Greek algia, 'pain'.

The word nostalgia also comes from the Greek, nost(os) meaning to return home.

In a sense, veisalgia and nostalgia are related. There is the hangover and the "return home" after a party but also when you think of a New Year, the new beginning, it's also a return.

The word 'hangover' has 19th century origins in the United States. The idea that a piece of business had been left unresolved, that it 'hung over' became paired with the pain of alcohol withdrawal in 1904.

The hangover is also called the "Spanish Headache". (In Spanish...resaca.)

In France, we have gueule de bois or wood mouth (which makes sense when we think of our dry mouths in the morning).

In Germany, a hangover is referred to as ein Kater or 'Tomcat'. In this sense, we have to recover like an alley cat who's been out all night. The remedy for a Tomcat: ein Katerfrühstück, or a breakfast of pickled herring to cure us of our katzenjammer (i.e. shrieking meow of cats in pain), the severe headache of a hangover.

Postumi della sbornia is the Italian phrase - or "aftermath of drunkenness" (it sounds more dramatic and serious - almost operatic).

In Polish we have kociokwik and похмелье is the Russian (pronounced pakhmel-YEH).

Speaking of Russian, one of my favourites words (that I know so far) is toskà (pronounced tahs-KAH).

What does it mean? Well... it means a great deal but there isn't an easy way to translate it. 

Vladimir Nabokov explains: "No single word in English renders all the shades of toskà. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, lovesickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom..."

Toskà haunts the first day of the New Year. If we think of a New Year in relation to Old, the old has passed, it is gone. There is toskà (a dull ache) for 2009. There is also toskà for certain memories, moments we had. But we have also outgrown the year, have become bored with it. 

There is also toskà for the New Year, a spiritual longing for peace in the world (a dream), for our lives to make sense, to have what we want, to want what we have, to appreciate those around us. Maybe we long to return to some place or there is a lovesickness for something we don't know but it's there, an undercurrent, a moment on the horizon. 

In our culture we celebrate the New, what is 'fresh, original'. Our latest technology renders previous gadgets and inventions nearly obsolete. But somehow, despite our Ipods, vinyl is still available.

And in the world of wine, vintages of yesteryear are closer to perfection. Despite how I feel, I'm going to open a bottle of German Riesling from 2002. In 2002 I was deeply sick, but now I'm doing alright. So far so good.

I wish everyone a happy New Year. May all your recoveries be joyous - even if you don't want pickled herring for breakfast.


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My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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