Teetotal (Teetotalism)

Teetotal (Teetotalism)

Teetotalism is the practice and promotion of complete (or T-total) abstinence from alcoholic beverages. A person who practices (and possibly advocates) teetotalism is a called a teetotaler or teetotaller (plural teetotalers or teetotallers.)

People generally choose teetotalism for religious, health, family, or societal reasons, or a combination of these reasons. This does not necessarily mean that they cannot participate in social drinking; for instance, for the typical teetotaller, soft drinks are an easily obtainable substitute at most drinking establishments.

Contemporary and colloquial usage has somewhat expanded teetotalism to include strict abstinence from most recreational intoxicants (legal and illegal, see controlled substances). Most teetotaller organizations also demand from their members that they do not promote or produce intoxicants.

One anecdote attributes the origin of the word to a meeting of the Preston Temperance Society in May 1832. This society was founded by Joseph Livesey, who was to become a leader of the Temperance movement and the author of The Pledge: “We agree to abstain from all liquors of an intoxicating quality whether ale, porter, wine or ardent spirits, except as medicine.” The story attributes the word to Dickie Turner, a member of the society, who had a stammer, and in a speech said that nothing would do but “tee-tee-total abstinence”.

A more likely explanation is that teetotal is simply a repetition of the ‘T’ in total. In England in the 1830s, when the word first appeared, it was also used in other contexts as an emphasised form of total; in this context, the word is still used, but predominantly in the southern United States. The word could also be confused as a fusion of the words tea, a common non-alcoholic beverage, and total, albeit with the spelling changed slightly — but this is widely considered to be incorrect.

The Temperance Movement

The temperance movement attempted to greatly reduce the amount of alcohol consumed or even prohibit its production and consumption entirely. In predominantly Muslim countries, temperance is part of Islam. In predominantly Christian countries, forms of Christianity influenced by Wesleyan views on sanctification have strongly supported it at times. More specifically, religious or moralistic beliefs have often been the catalyst for temperance, though secular advocates do exist. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union is a prominent example of a religion-based temperance movement.

The Teetotal Progressionist - A True Representation (1852)
The Teetotal Progressionist – A True Representation (1852)

Most of the biggest supporters in all countries have been women, often as part of what some describe as feminism. The strong temperance movements of the early 20th century found most of their support in women who were opposed to the domestic violence associated with alcohol, and the large share of household income it would swallow, which was especially burdensome to the low-income working class.