Ethiopian English: Grocery = bottle shop

Today’s post is not about Baskeet, the Omotic language I am presently working on, but on Ethiopian English. When I was in Ethiopia recently I was again intrigued by the meaning shifts that some English words have undergone in Ethiopian English or, as loanwords, in Amharic. One of my long-time Ethiopian favourite is grocery.

In English, the word grocery, or the common plural form groceries, means ‘food, food products, foodstuffs’. The place where you buy them could be called a grocer’s shop or a grocery. In Ethiopia, the word grocery is never used in reference to foodstuffs or a place where foodstuffs are sold. Instead, I have only heard and read it being used for a bottle shop / liquor store, i.e. a place where alcohol (beer, wine, whisky etc.) is sold. Don’t expect to find onions in an Ethiopian grocery!

Below is the picture of a bottle shop called “National Grocery”, written in large Ethiopian letters on the large board at the top and in Latin letters on the windows to the left (click to enlarge!), where it is, however, misspelt as “Grosry”.

Bottle shop ("Grocery") in Addis Ababa

Bottle shop (“Grocery”) in Addis Ababa

I wonder how this semantic shift “store for food” > “store for alcohol” could have come about. Does anyone have an idea?

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