cicerone /sɪsəˈrəʊnɪ/


Growing up as I did in the north of England during the 1960’s and 1970’s, there was a definite class distinction between the drinking of beer and the drinking of wine. Beer was for the proletariat and wine the bourgeoisie. This didn’t mean that we proles didn’t drink the odd bottle of plonk on special occasions but a good night out included pie, peas, pints of bitter, a few games of darts, and a Google-free night of arguing about anything under the sun for which the facts weren’t available.

As the times were a’changing during the 1970’s, British beer production slowly found its way into an ever-decreasing number of corporate players who began to sacrifice quality and diversity for mass-production and cheapness. In response to this, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) was formed as a consumer pressure group to encourage the brewing of more unique beers from local sources with distinct flavors.

On moving to the US in the mid 1990’s, I had to adapt from the “warm” ales[1] of Britain to the “cold” beers of America – not too difficult but the dominance of Budweiser, Miller, and Coors meant that there were limited selections unless you wanted to buy bottled offerings. Wine, on the other hand, was as bourgeois as it has always been back in Europe, and beer was still the choice of the working man.

But here we are in the glorious 2000’s and the world of beer has grown splendiferously. Along with the development of more choice with more flavors, we’re seeing a shift in attitudes away from beer as the common man’s option. And just as the wine-drinking community has its specialist, knowledgeable professionals called sommeliers [2], beer-drinkers are creating a similar breed known as the cicerone.

The word cicerone, sometimes pronounced using its Italian form of /tʃɪːtʃəˈrəʊni/ (chee-chuh-ROH-nee), can be traced back to the Roman orator and politician, Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was born on January 3, 106 B.C.E. and died on December 7, 43 B.C.E., tragically beheaded by the soldiers of Marc Anthony. Recognized as a man of great intelligence and learning, the Latin Ciceronem was used to refer to a learned guide, often in relation to providing information about objects, events, and locations of antiquities. This became the Italian cicerone with the first mention in Joseph Addison’s The Works of the Right Honorable Joseph Addison Esq. in 1721:

It surprized me to see my Ciceroni so well acquainted with the busts and statues of all the great people of antiquity.

By the end of the 18th century, the word was also being used as a verb meaning to act as a cicerone.

The word appears to be more often used in Europe than in the US, where docent is more typically found, which means someone “employed to instruct visitors about exhibits at a museum, art gallery, etc., especially as a guide at historical homes and reconstructions.” Docent comes from the Latin docere, which means “to teach.”

The current use of the word in relation to beer can be traced to Ray Daniels, a beer expert and brewer, who created the Cicerone® Certification Program and took out a trademark on this use of cicerone as it relates to beer. Technically, this would be to stop people calling themselves cicerones instead of “beer experts,” “beer sommeliers,” or even cervesario, an untrademarked name for a beer specialist. Oddly the creators of Cicerone® don’t use it as trademarks are typically recommended to be used – which is as a nominal premodifier (or more commonly an adjective). Sure, folks talk about having “an iPad,” or “a Ford” or “a Band-Aid,” but the correct use (from the legal perspective) is “an iPad tablet” or “a Ford car” or “a Band-Aid bandage,” where the trademarks are used to specify a noun. You can’t trademark common nouns, such as “tablet,” “car,” or “bandage,” but you can mark adjectival pre-modifiers. Using a trademark as a noun ultimately leads to the demise of the mark as it becomes “genericized” – think “escalator,” “aspirin,” or “trampoline,” all of which started as trademarks but are now generic [3].

[1] So let’s get that old myth of “warm beer” dealt with here and now. A good English beer is NOT served warm but at something called “cellar temperature,” which is 12°C or 55°F. Before mechanical cooling systems were invented, a pub would store its casks of ale in a cellar where the temperature would be at or around that 55°F mark. A fine British bitter or Stout is brewed to be at its best at cellar temperature and to serve it colder and in a chilled glass would make it taste terrible. Most of the common American beers are brewed to be best at around 37°F/3°C with IPAs at 47°F/9°C – lower than the “warm” English drinks. If your experience of English beer comes from bottles of Newcastle Brown kept in a refrigerator, rest assured that should you actually visit Newcastle you’ll have a much better appreciation of what it should taste like.

[2] Originally used to refer to a simple wine waiter, it comes from the French meaning “butler” and somme meaning pack or baggage. So the first sommelier was the butler who carried the bags.

[3] For a good overview of the interplay between linguistics and trademarking, take a look at “The Grammar of Trademarks” by Laura Heymann.

Heymann, Laura, A. (2010). The Grammar of Trademarks. Faculty Publications. paper 1157, ttp://

Another source is:

Shuy, R. (2002). Linguistic Battles in Trademark Disputes. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.