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It’s Teetotaler . . . Not Teatotaler January 6, 2011

Posted by nrhatch in Food & Drink, Humor, Word Play, Writing & Writers.

150px-Carlo_Crivelli_052Maggie (Madly Writing) wrote an amusing post yesterday, Why do These Words Exist?

Her post questioned the existence of nine words, including:  teetotaler, chill, blog, and lollygag.

To see the rest of Maggie’s list, and her rationale for excising  these words from the English language, swing by Maggie Madly Writing.

Tip:  While there, see if you can catch her post on awesome words. 

Anyway, as I told Maggie, the word teetotaler doesn’t bother me . . . except when people use it to mean that they drink tea, but not coffee.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had a conversation along the following lines:

Someone I’ve just met says, “I’m a teatotaler.”

I raise my eyebrows, “You are? You’re drinking a glass of wine.”

“Oh, I drink wine, but not coffee.”

200px-March-hare“Doesn’t teetotaler mean someone who abstains from alcoholic beverages?”

“No. Tea-totaler means someone who drinks only tea in the morning, not coffee.”

“Oh.  Want a refill on that drink then?”


“How about a Kahlua and Cream?”

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1. Maggie - January 6, 2011


nrhatch - January 6, 2011

Thanks for the inspiration.

Looking forward to seeing your AWESOME words, Maggie.

2. Paula Tohline Calhoun - January 6, 2011

You know I love this post! Anything that has to do with words and etymology – I’m there! I’m going over to Maggie’s site to check it out. BTW, about a year ago one of my young cousins and I were discussing the word “teetotaler.” I have never heard it used as a “no coffee in the morning” word. It has always meant total abstinance from alcohol to me, because that is the way I was raised (I can see your eyebrows raising, even as you read this! :-D). More on that in a blog post perhaps. Thanks for this post.

I’ve had to cut down on writing time out of deference to my shoulder, but also because Sonya and I had an argument recently and I have been pouting. 😀 Anyway, that’s why my comments have been either brief or missing, but I’m still reading!

nrhatch - January 6, 2011

My great aunt Edie was THE most delightful person I’ve ever known, and she was a teetotaler ~ so, nope, no eyebrow raising going on here.

Did you and your young cousin have any amusing anecdotes to share about the word?

Sorry that Sonya and you have had a falling out ~ you better be nice to her . . . she is, after all, our window into your world. 😉

Paula Tohline Calhoun - January 7, 2011

She did some checking for me and said that it grew out of the abstinence movement when people were not just abstinent, but TOTALLY abstinent, as in (Capital)T-totally abstinent. So, Teetotalers.

The only reason I thought you might raise your eyebrows over my being raised by non-drinkers is that I’ve written occasionally about my enjoyment of certain drinks and wine, so I don’t exactly sound like I was raised like a teetotaler! In a fit of youthful rebellion, I took a trip into the drinking world when in college. I quickly learned that over-indulgence would never be my thing (fortunately), but I did develop a taste for the occasional drink. I’m particularly fond of rum – but that’s another story altogether! 😀

Sonya and I have a arrived at an uneasy truce. For now.

nrhatch - January 7, 2011

In high school and college, I drank. A lot.

In law school, I studied. A lot. We had no money for alcohol or bars, so I lived a rather “sober” existence. No one at the law school knew of my previous life.

Mid-year, some classmates invited me to a party, and apologetically explained that there would be BEER and WINE there.

I laughed and laughed ~ they thought I was a teetotaler because they’d never seen me out drinking!

We have as many reputations as acquaintances . . . and none is accurate.

3. Cindy - January 6, 2011

Never mind, can I have a glass of wine, I’ve not had one all week!

nrhatch - January 6, 2011

Tout de suite.


Aah . . . sweet!

4. Doug - January 6, 2011

Ha! Good post.

I used to drink bourbon in my coffee, now it’s coffee but black and chased with bourbon. Not really…but as absurd as Tea-totaler.


nrhatch - January 6, 2011

Thanks, Doug! Words (and people) are fun to observe. 🙂

5. Richard W Scott - January 6, 2011

I never gave that a thought, Nancy. But if I had, I would have assumed it was spelled TEA,not TEE–and that is despite having seen the word written often enough in past reading. And THAT brings up the reason we cannot really edit our own work. We see what we expect to see in our writing.
My best memories of “teetotaler” were the reaction, the sort of standing double-take, that W.C. Fields would have whenever he found himself in the presence of a flute-voiced old woman in a big hat who was admosishing him for being drunk.

nrhatch - January 6, 2011

Excellent description . . . a flute-voiced old woman in a big hat who was admosishing him for being drunk.

Very similar to the women in the Marx Brothers film who admonished them for acting drunk. 😉

6. Greg Camp - January 6, 2011

The etymology of teetotaler shows a case of doubling the initial sound for emphasis–T-total, as opposed to just total. Perhaps we could use the word in this fashion: I drank the teetotal bottle, and boy, was it good. Hiccup!

The first time that I encountered that word was in an account of the sinking of the “Titanic”: A Night To Remember. Captain Stanley Lord, master of the “Californian,” refused to get himself out of bed to see what all the fuss was about a few waves down south. He was described as a teetotaler, so he didn’t have the excuse of being drunk.

nrhatch - January 6, 2011

I’ve been wondering about the etymology. And love that idea ~ I drank the ttt-total bottle!

7. kateshrewsday - January 6, 2011

I’ve never come across the term used in that way, Nancy. It is a cop-out! Teetotaller means one thing, as any Cornish Wesleyan will tell you with a definiteness bordering on entrenchment 😀

Judson - January 6, 2011

“Cop-Out” …

There’s another good one. Where in the world did that term come from??

nrhatch - January 6, 2011

Exactly, Kate! I expect that a few people have just assumed that they knew what it meant, without ever bothering to pull out the dictionary and check. 🙂

Cop-Out . . . etymology, anyone?

8. Judson - January 6, 2011

Nancy — Are you saying I DOM’T get “French” benefits at work??


nrhatch - January 6, 2011

Sorry, Judson. I don’t follow you.

9. M. Howalt - January 7, 2011

Haha, great post. It made me smile. 🙂

nrhatch - January 7, 2011

Thanks, M.

10. Tammy McLeod - January 7, 2011

I always learn something new from you Nancy!

nrhatch - January 7, 2011

Right back at you!

Blogging is such a fun way to pick up tidbits of eclectic information that might be useful down the road.

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