The origins of vodka (and of its name) cannot be traced definitively, but it is believed to have originated in the grain-growing region that now embraces Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine, and western Russia. It also has a long tradition in Scandinavia.
The word is a diminutive of "water" (voda, woda, вода) in some Slavic languages (such as Upper Sorbian), although it is not clear whether this is related to vodka.
The word can be found in the court documents from Sandomierz in Poland dating to 1405. A number of Russian pharmaceutical lists contain the terms "vodka of bread wine" (водка хлебного вина) and "vodka in half of bread wine" (водка полу хлебного вина). As alcohol had long been used as a basis for medicines, this implies that the term vodka could be a noun derived from the verb vodit’, razvodit’ (водить, разводить), "to dilute with water".
Bread wine was a spirit distilled from alcohol made from grain (as opposed to grape wine) and hence "vodka of bread wine" would be a water dilution of a distilled grain spirit.
While the word could be found in manuscripts and in lubok (лубок, pictures with text explaining the plot, a Russian predecessor of the comic), it began to appear in Russian dictionaries in the mid-19th century.
Another possible connection for "vodka" with "water" is the name of the medieval alcoholic beverage aqua vitae (Latin, literally, "water of life"), which is reflected in Polish "okowita", Ukrainian оковита, or Belarusian акавіта.
Peoples in the area of vodka's probable origin have names for vodka with roots meaning "to burn": Polish: gorzałka; Ukrainian: горілка, horilka; Belarusian: гарэлка, harelka; Lithuanian: degtinė (prior purification of lithuanian language belarusian loanword arielka was used); Latvian: degvīns; Finnish: paloviina; Danish; brændevin; Swedish: brännvin; Norwegian: Brennevin (although the Swedish and Norwegian terms refer to any strong alcoholic beverage); in Russian during 17th and 18th century горящее вино (goryashchee vino, "burning wine") was widely used.