I've been on a bit of a sauerkraut kick lately, and why not? Pickled and fermented foods are enjoying a culinary moment, and there are inventive new recipes to sample. One that caught my eye a few weeks ago was a raw jalapeño cabbage blend from a new-to-me California company, Sonoma Brinery. Yes, the contents of the little tub were tasty, but the name piqued my interest, too: Was brinery an old established noun, like bakery and brewery, that I just hadn't heard of? Or was it a new coinage, meant to signify a fresh concept in pickling?
I couldn't find brinery in any dictionary, so I concluded that it was a marketing creation. But it isn't a wholly original one, and not only because there's another Brinery in Michigan. Company names coined with the -ery suffix are a distinct trend, signaling "handcrafted" and "traditional" with a dash of "innovative" and a soupçon of "lovable." Seedery, Thinkery, Startery, Cakery, Shakery, Cupcakery: They're all modern, 21st-century brands that hitch up a Middle English suffix to state their business.
Nouns ending in -ery (or -erie, the French spelling) first appeared in English around 1300 as imports from French; the oldest include bribery, sorcery, drapery (cloth or textile fabrics), venery (the practice of hunting animals), and nunnery (a convent, although in the 16th century it took on the slang meaning of brothel – that's the meaning Shakespeare had in mind when he had Hamlet tell Ophelia, "Get thee to a nunnery"). A very few -ery nouns came from Latin, most notably mystery from mysterium.
The French originals were mostly nouns denoting a place of business – boucherie (butchery), brasserie (brewery) – or a type of action, such as tromperie (deceit) or robbery. But once -ery sailed across the Channel, it began combining in independent and very English ways. As early as 1393, English speakers attached -ery to the Old English verb cook and created cookery, "the art or practice of cooking," a noun that still survives, although more commonly in British English than American. Another Old English verb, fish, yielded fishery, "the business or occupation of catching fish." In the 18th century, a group of -ery nouns cropped up to describe places where animals live: piggery, rookery, swannery, cattery.
Well-known English writers contributed to the -ery word-hoard. From Spenser we have foolery (1579). Shakespeare is believed to have coined stitchery in Coriolanus (1616). The 17th century saw the invention of finery, quackery, machinery, and joinery as well as scenery, which combined an Italian root with the now thoroughly Anglicized suffix.
In the 19th century, American industry began adding its own -ery words to the lexicon. Bindery (a bookbinder's establishment) is one of the oldest such inventions, first appearing in 1810. Creamery – a place where butter, cream, and cheese are made – first appeared in print in 1872, in the records of the Vermont State Board of Agriculture.
Commercial canning had been around since 1812, but it wasn't until 1879 that cannery first appeared in print, in a reference to "the salmon canneries in Oregon." Winery made its print debut in 1882, in the pages of Harper's magazine, the oldest continuously published general-interest magazine in the United States.
And it was also in North America that, beginning in the late 19th century, a new class of -ery words was born. These words emerged from the world of commerce, but they denoted places where stuff could be bought, not where it was (necessarily) made. That stuff, at least originally, was food. The earliest of the new words, according to the OED, was hashery (1870) – "a hash-house, a cheap eating-house," which first appeared in print in the Alaska Times. (Hash itself wasn't new; it had migrated into English from French in the 17th century).
One word for a cheap eating-house apparently wasn't enough, so in 1887 a writer for Grip, a humor journal published in Toronto, punned on Shakespeare and came up with "Go to, illustrious reader; get thee to a beanery." (Beans are cheap; a beanery served cheap meals.)
Rounding out the restaurant-ery terms was eatery, which began appearing in the U.S. around 1901. (Drinkery had been coined some 60 years earlier, possibly by the American politician and writer John Pendleton Kennedy.) Soon enough, eatery crossed the Atlantic, having attracted the attention of the English humorist P. G. Wodehouse (1881–1975), who used it in Inimitable Jeeves (1923): "Why, then, was he lunching the girl at this God-forsaken eatery?" Wodehouse had been entranced with America since boyhood, and spent several long stretches in the U.S. writing for Broadway and Hollywood productions. He adopted beanery, too, and used it in a 1967 novel, Company for Henry.
By then, the invention of -ery words by merchants of every stripe was practically a cottage industry in America. Boozery (a drinking establishment) began appearing around 1916; bootery (a place where boots and shoes are sold) in 1920. Cakery, breadery, and, eventually, carwashery all followed. (Washery had been in use since the 1870s, when it referred to the industrial washing of coal, ore, or wool; its meaning later extended to "laundry.") Just about any single-syllable word ending in a consonant sound could be, and was, transformed into a new -ery word: breadery, wiggery, lunchery, puffery. (Multisyllabic words follow a similar pattern but eliminate the e in -ery: wizardry, banditry, peasantry, mimicry, rocketry.) The UK made its own distinctive contribution in the mid-1950s with carvery, "a buffet or restaurant where meat is carved from a joint as required" – another example of an Old English verb, in this case carve, finding new meaning with an -ery suffix. And sure enough, carvery was soon adopted in North America as well, showing up in beef-forward eateries like House of Prime Rib.
So it's no surprise that when 21st-century businesses search for company names, they often turn to this centuries-old formula. Now, though, the homespun-sounding -ery names often describe "disruptive" services and products. Mashery, for example, sounds like hashery, but it serves bits rather than burgers. (From the corporate website: "Repurpose existing data with APIs to drive digital innovation.") Batchery evokes hatchery, but it's a "global startup incubator." There's no flour at Siftery; it's a database of software stacks. Thinkery is a museum in Austin, Texas, that focuses on science, technology, and engineering. And while Munchery builds on munch, a verb familiar to Chaucer in the 15th century, it's not an old-style eatery, or even a lunchery: it's a meal-delivery service summoned with a smartphone app.
As for the brinery in Sonoma Brinery, my sauerkraut discovery, it seems satisfyingly traditional, created as it is from brine – an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "saltwater" – and that beloved Middle English suffix -ery. Yet the coinage itself is brand new, as befits a trendy food product sold in hipster enclaves. A nice one to add to our wordery, don't you think?