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A family member of mine has an old bier stein with a word written on the front. I studied German, but I have forgotten too much so I can't read it anymore. Can you tell me what is says, or if it's a proper noun? It looks like 'Profil' or something, but I can barely read the archaic calligraphy.

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    Some maybe interesting trivia: Bierstein is a nice English neologism apparently based on German. And it is not the least bit German - In German, Bierstein means an ugly residue left in the brewing equipment that needs to be removed (similar to Weinstein). So that word is the English counterpart of "Handy". Your item is a "Bierkrug" in German. – tofro Sep 15 '16 at 11:00
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    It's fun to see that a question with the term “Bier” in it is viewed almost 1000 times in just a few hours. :-) – PerlDuck Sep 15 '16 at 18:24
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It says Prosit. That’s a toast like “Cheers!” or “Bottoms up!”, so it fits the Bierstein. Prosit has its origins in the Latin verb prodesse, which means to serve (a purpose) or to be useful. The literal meaning would be something like “it (the drink) shall be useful (or beneficial)”. Today, mostly the shorter form Prost is used.

The word is written in the old Fraktur script of the Latin alphabet. In today’s German writing, two forms of the letter s are used: The “normal” s and the Eszett or sharp s, ß. Fraktur offered a third form, the long s, ſ. The Prosit or Proſit on the Bierstein is written with that glyph.

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    Also, the word prosit is not entirely gone, see the drinking song ;) – Jan Sep 15 '16 at 9:27
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    In Fraktur, the modern 's' was used at the end of a word, and the 'f'-like glyph in the middle. Similar to Greek, where the letter sigma has two distinct forms depending on whether it is at the end of the word or not. – Oliver Mason Sep 15 '16 at 13:07
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    The long s was also used in English orthography until the 1800s. – David Richerby Sep 15 '16 at 13:38
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    "prosit" is a Latin word used in German, 3rd person singular present subjunctive, "may it be beneficial". – fdb Sep 15 '16 at 22:27
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Proſit

The 4th letter is a »long s«. German used to have three different types of s:

  • s = »rundes S« (round S)
  • ß = »scharfes S« (sharp S), also called »Eszett« because it derives froma ligature of long S (»Es«) (ſ) and Z (»Zett«) (ʒ) (in fractur writing)
  • ſ = »langes S« (long S)

German had special orthographic rules for the usage of those three letters. For more details see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_s

Today German has only two kinds of s (»s« and »ß«). When ever the long s had to be used in fractur writing, you use the round s now.

But this is only true for German German and Austrian German. In Swiss German also the ß is obsolete, so in Swiss German you use only the letter s. The rules are:

  • If it had to be ſ before, use s now. (In all tree German Langauges)
  • If it is ß in German German or Austrian German, use ss instead. (Only in Swiss German).

This second rule (ß -> ss) can also be used if you write all UPPERCASE (becasue there is no uppercase »ß« in Standard German), or if you have tecnicalProblems with »ß« (i.e. when using a non-german Keyboard).

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