Teetotalism (sometimes tee-totalism) refers to either the practice of or the promotion of complete abstinence from alcoholic beverages. A person who practices (and possibly advocates) teetotalism is called a teetotaler or teetotaller (plural teetotalers or teetotallers) or is simply said to be teetotal.

Some common reasons for choosing teetotalism are religious, health, family, philosophical, fear of gastric/ epi-gastric and/or social reasons, and, sometimes, as simply a matter of taste preference. When at drinking establishments, they either abstain from drinking or consume non-alcoholic beverages such as tea, coffee, water, juice, and soft drinks.

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

US President Rutherford B. Hayes was a famous teetotaler. His wife acquired the nickname "Lemonade Lucy" because of her practice of serving guests non-alcoholic beverages while entertaining in the White House. A more contemporary example of this is the current Vice President of the United States Joe Biden who abstains from alcohol, citing his own family's history of alcoholism.


The Drunkard's Progress - Color

The Drunkard's Progress: A lithograph by Nathaniel Currier supporting the temperance movement, January 1846.

One anecdote attributes the origin of the word to a meeting of the Preston Temperance Society in 1832 or 1833. 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 Dicky Turner, a member of the society, who had a stammer, and in a speech said that nothing would do but "tee-tee-total abstinence".

An alternate explanation is that teetotal is simply a reduplication of the 'T' in total (T-total). It is said that as early as 1827 in some Temperance Societies signing a 'T' after one's name signified one's pledge for total abstinence.[1] In England in the 1830s, when the word first entered the lexicon, it was also used in other contexts as an emphasized form of total. In this context, the word is still used, 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 (Tea-total) — but this is not widely believed.


Nephalism[2], temperance, abstinence / abstention, abstemiousness and restraint are synonyms for teetotalism.

Numerous idioms and slang terms imply abstinence from alcohol. A common American term is "on the (water) wagon", which frequently means those who have had a problem with alcohol, as well as the terms "dry" and "sober". "Straight edge" is a newer idiom for abstaining from alcohol and other intoxicants, although it is more common in connection with hardcore punk culture. "Temperance" was a more popular term in the 1800s and early 1900s when temperance unions throughout the US battled consumption of alcoholic beverages.

See also


  1. "Online Etymology Dictionary - T, page 5". Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  2. From Greek νήφω (verb) = "I do not drink wine", νηφάλιος (adjective) = "not drinking wine"

External links

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