Saturday, October 29, 2022




The word teetotal refers to total abstinence from alcohol consumption.

The word is said to be an example of what is called reduplication, the repetition of the word or the stem of the word, either with or without a slight change.

The word began its life as simply an emphatic way to say total, that is, T Total. The modern equivalent would be to say Total with a Capital T.

Its application to abstinence from alcohol has been attributed to Richard “Dicky” Turner, around 1832 or 1833, who decided to renounce his drunken ways and so attended a local temperance meeting. So sincere was he that he addressed the membership and declared that any and all types of alcohol should be absolutely avoided, in what he called “teetotal abstinence,” and saying “nothing but the teetotal pledge will do.”

Originally the temperance movement didn’t see anything wrong with wine, beer or cider. It was distilled spirituous liquors which were seen as the real evil. The idea of temperance, then, was to abstain from hard liquors. Later, attitudes changed and wine, beer, and cider came to be seen as just as much of a problem as spirits. Therefore the temperance movement began to call for total abstinence from all alcohol-containing beverages., hence Dicky Turner’s call for teetotalism.

c.1874 lithograph by Currier and Ives, titled “Woman’s Holy War. Grand Charge on the Enemy’s Works.” A young woman in armour, bearing an axe and a shield with the stars and stripes and astride a charging horse, leads a group of similarly armed women as they shatter barrels of liquor.



Wowser is an Australian expression, meaning a puritanical or censorious person, in particular a teetotaller or person opposed to alcohol.

The term originated in Australia, at first carrying a similar meaning to "lout" (an annoying or disruptive person, or even a prostitute). Around 1900 it shifted to its present meaning: one whose sense of morality drives them to deprive others of their sinful pleasures, especially liquor. The term was particularly applied to members of temperance groups such as the antipodean branches of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union.

John Norton, editor of the Australian scandal newspaper, Truth, claimed he first used the word in 1899, a claim supported by the OED. However some authors claim that the present meaning originated from an Australian temperance slogan, "We Only Want Social Evils Remedied." This apparent backronym is considered a "less credible provenance" by the ANU.

"Wowser" was frequently used by artist and author Norman Lindsay, who fought many battles with "wowsers" over the sexual content in his art and writing, the term in this context meaning a person who seeks to deprive others of behaviour deemed to be immoral or sinful.

“The Wowser’s Retinue” by Norman Lindsay, 1932



The spelling whiskey is common in Ireland and the United States, while whisky is used in all other whisky-producing countries. In the US, the usage has not always been consistent. From the late eighteenth century to the mid twentieth century, American writers used both spellings interchangeably until the introduction of newspaper style guides. Since the 1960s, American writers have increasingly used whiskey as the accepted spelling for aged grain spirits made in the US and whisky for aged grain spirits made outside the US.

Within Scotland, the whisky that is made in Scotland is simply called whisky, while outside Scotland (and in the UK regulations that govern its production) it is commonly called Scotch whisky, or simply "Scotch" (especially in North America).

The 15th century alchemists who first used the term aqua vitae were doing so to refer to distilled spirits. Their Latin borrowing has endured in English: aqua vitae is still a generic (and seldom used) term for a strong alcoholic liquor, like brandy.

Whisky is the modern version of the Hiberno-Scots take on aqua vitae. It's a shortening of earlier whiskeybae and usquebaugh, among many other variants, all of which are borrowed from either Irish uisce beathadh or Scottish Gaelic uisge beatha and refer to a drink traditionally distilled from malted barley.


On the topic of whisky . . .

The Secret Whisky Cure

Henry Lawson, 1904

'Tis no tale of heroism, 'tis no tale of storm and strife,
But of ordinary boozing, and of dull domestic life —
Of the everlasting friction that most husbands must endure —
Tale of nagging and of drinking — and a secret whisky cure.

Name of Jones — perhaps you know him — small house-agent here in town —
(Friend of Smith, you know him also — likewise Robinson and Brown),
Just a hopeless little husband, whose deep sorrows were obscure,
And a bitter nagging Missis — and death seemed the only cure.

'Twas a common sordid marriage, and there's little new to tell —
Save the pub to him was Heaven and his own home was a hell:
With the office in between them — purgatory to be sure —
And, as far as Jones could make out — well, there wasn't any cure.

'Twas drink and nag — or nag and drink — whichever you prefer —
Till at last she couldn't stand him any more than he could her.
Friends and relatives assisted, telling her (with motives pure)
That a legal separation was the only earthly cure.

So she went and saw a lawyer, who, in accents soft and low,
Asked her firstly if her husband had a bank account or no;
But he hadn't and she hadn't, they in fact were very poor,
So he bowed her out suggesting she should try some liquor cure.

She saw a drink cure advertised in the Sydney Bulletin —
Cure for brandy, cure for whisky, cure for rum and beer and gin,
And it could be given secret, it was tasteless, swift and sure —
So she purchased half a gallon of that Secret Whisky Cure.

And she put some in his coffee, smiling sweetly all the while,
And he started for the office rather puzzled by the smile —
Smile or frown he'd have a whisky, and you'll say he was a boor —
But perhaps his wife had given him an overdose of Cure.

And he met a friend he hadn't seen for seven years or more —
It was just upon the threshold of a private bar-room door —
And they coalised and entered straight away, you may be sure —
But of course they hadn't reckoned with a Secret Whisky Cure.

Jones, he drank, turned pale, and, gasping, hurried out the back way quick,
Where, to his old chum's amazement, he was violently sick;
Then they interviewed the landlord, but he swore the drink was pure —
It was only the beginning of the Secret Whisky Cure.

For Jones couldn't stand the smell of even special whisky blends,
And shunned bar-rooms to the sorrow of his trusty drinking friends:
And they wondered, too, what evil genius had chanced to lure
Him from paths of booze and friendship — never dreaming of a Cure.

He had noticed, too, with terror that a something turned his feet,
When a pub was near, and swung him to the other side the street,
Till he thought the devils had him, and his person they'd immure
In a lunatic asylum where there wasn't any Cure.

He consulted several doctors who were puzzled by the case —
As they mostly are, but never tell the patient to his face —
Some advised him 'Try the Mountains for this malady obscure:'
But there wasn't one could diagnose a Secret Whisky Cure.

And his wife, when he was sober? — Well, she nagged him all the more!
And he couldn't drown his sorrow in the pewter as of yore:
So he shot himself at Manly and was sat upon by Woore,
And found rest amongst the spirits from the Secret Whisky Cure.

And the moral? — well, 'tis funny — or 'tis woman's way with men —
She's remarried to a publican who whacks her now and then,
And they get on fairly happy, he's a brute and he's a boor,
But she's never tried her second with a Secret Whisky Cure.


By the way:

Henry Lawson (1867 – 1922), iconic Australian writer and bush poet, battled with mental illness and alcoholism. At times destitute, he spent periods in Darlinghurst Gaol and psychiatric institutions, dying in 1922 from a cerebral haemorrhage. His 1896 marriage ended unhappily in 1903, his wife alleging numerous incidents of abuse and domestic violence, and of his problems with alcohol.

Bust of Henry Lawson, Footscray, Victoria.

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