deriving from the Greek for 'true' (eteos/etymos) and 'word' (logos)

Curious about the origin of a word or term? Send it to us and we shall go forth and investigate.

Our President has reminded us that FebFast has begun. The charity that challenges us to abstain from alcohol for the shortest month of the year (and, yes, that was a deliberate strategy employed by the FebFast founders) has extended its list of things we can give up, to include sugar, caffeine and 'digital overload'.

What's an editor to do? How could we possibly function without coffee, chocolate biscuits and Grammar Girl?

Alcohol it is, then. Teetotal we shall be.


Teetotal was first recorded in Kentucky dialect in 1832, but reportedly could have much older Irish-English origins. Personally, having Irish-English ancestry, I think that's a ludicrous idea but I'm too busy getting rid of those leftover liqueur chocolates before February 1 to research that further.

In 1833, teetotal was used in England in a speech by Richard 'Dicky' Turner. Dicky was urging total abstinence from all alcohol rather than mere avoidance of hard spirits, which was being advocated by less hardcore temperance reformers.

Teetotal was created by a reduplication of the initial T- of total. Reduplication is a linguistic process in which all or part of a word is repeated to add emphasis or indicate plurality. So we could say that Dicky Turner was a goody-goody who thought booze was a no-no.

Aboriginal languages commonly employ reduplication. 'Wagga' means 'crow' in the language of the Wiradjuri people of south-eastern Australia. 'Wagga Wagga' therefore is 'place of many crows'.