One would think that, during Prohibition, ‘dry’ meant ‘teetotal’. Uhm… not really.
The position of drys on the matters was often political or social (or both) and this very seldom matched the private view of the same person, who, as someone has put it, may not have been outright wet, but it was often at least moist.
There were, however, coherent individuals who were both dry and teetotal, Henry Ford being one of the most well-known. Yes, true, he then became a supporter of repeal, but he stayed teetotal.
There has been much debate about where the word teetotal comes from. The most accredited origin tells the story of Richard “Dick” Turner, a known drunkard, who stepped into a temperance conference in Lancashire (Great Britain) in 1832. He meant to have fun at them, he ended up pledging his abstinence to alcohol forever. There and then, he declared there is no abstinence other than tee-tee-total abstinence.
Now, some say he say T-Total to stress the concept. Some say he stammered on the word. Some others say he stammered because he was tee-tee-totally drunk. Whatever it was, Mr Turner is often credited to be the ‘inventor’ of the word.
But there are other stories.
In the 1800s, most temperance movements didn’t see anything wrong with wine, beer or cider, the real enemy being just hard liquor. So people who signed for the cause could either pledge for moderation and so to renounce just hard liquors, or for total abstinence. Those who pledged total abstinence would place a ‘T’ after their name, and that might be where the ‘t’ in teetotal comes from.
There is also another story that is so improbable I’m not even… ok, you talked me into it. I’m telling you.
Some say ‘tee’ is ‘tea’ misspelt, and teetotalers were those who pledge to drink tea in place of any alcohol.
So there, now you know the pretty and the ugly of it.
Culinary Lore – What is the origin of the word teetotal?
Kobler, John, Ardent Spirits. The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. Da Capo Press, New York, 1973