Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tea totaler or teetotaler?

Tea-totaler or Tee-totaler?

This term comes up in the tea shop quite often. By listening I can't tell how it's being spelled, but I can tell you it is typically misused. I thought I’d take a moment to more clearly define the term and explain from where it comes. It has to do with prohibition. It likely has nothing at all to do with tea.

The movement for the prohibition of alcohol began in the early 19th century, when Americans concerned about the adverse effects of drinking began forming temperance societies. By the late 19th century, these groups had become a powerful political force, campaigning on the state level and calling for total national abstinence. On January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment, also known as the Prohibition Amendment, which prohibited the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes". Yesterday was the 90th anniversary of this amendment.

The term teetotaler is likely most correctly attributed to Dicky Turner, a stammering member of the Preston Temperance Society, who in a speech remarked, ``nothing will do but a T-T-Total abstinence’’. The t in the tee totaler is said to have come from the stammering part of his remark. Others say the t stands for Temperance. In either case, today the term teetotaler is properly used to indicate someone practicing and/or promoting total abstinence from alcoholic beverages. While it is believed by many to mean one who drinks tea, there is little to no evidence to support that definition, unless that definition means that the tea drinker is drinking tea in an effort to refrain from the intake of alcohol.

Most of our familiarity with prohibition was garnered through our viewing of programs like ``The Untouchables’’ wherein Federal Agent Eliot Ness and his incorruptible team of agents battle organized crime. It was the early 1930s when people would do just about anything for an alcoholic beverage. Bootlegging operations got the folks their drinks and drew in immense wealth for gangsters like Al Capone. Al Capone was born 110 years ago day, on January 17, 1899 in Brooklyn NY.


  1. Apologies for replying to an old topic. Another explanation of Tea Totaller is directly tea related, a Totaller being a taster of the fresh leaves in the plantations who would avoid alcohol and anything else such as spicy food that may taint their palate.

    Unfounded drivel or feasible?

  2. Thanks for this clarification!


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