• alcohol •
æl-kê-hawl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. A colorless volatile flammable liquid, C2H5OH, obtained by fermentation of sugars and starches. 2. Intoxicating beverages containing this substance, e.g. 'to give up alcohol'.
Notes: The adjective accompanying this word, alcoholic, may be used as a noun, referring to someone addicted to alcoholic beverages. Alcoholism refers to that addiction. The adverb, alcoholically, refers to a way of doing something while imbibing alcohol, as "He's been treating a chronic case of 'flu' alcoholically for years."
In Play: "Would you like a drink?" is ambiguous between to you want something nonalcoholic to drink or do you want an alcoholic drink. But we are interested only in the word alcohol today: "The pros and cons of the effect of alcohol on our health have been debated for centuries."
Word History: Today's word was copied letter-for-letter from Medieval Latin alcohol "powdered ore of antimony". Latin picked up the word from the Arabic language. The Arabic is al-kuhul "the kohl", referring to the fine metallic powder used to darken the eyelids. Kuhul is a paronym of kahala "to color, paint". "Powdered cosmetic" was the earliest sense of this word in English. The modern sense of "intoxicating ingredient in drinks" is first recorded in 1753, short for alcohol of wine, originally "the pure spirit of wine", which was extended to "the intoxicating spirit in fermented liquors".Today chemists would refer to the substance as ethanol, which is also a gasoline additive. (Let's all now lift out glasses to Chris Stewart, the contributor of this tipsy Good Word.)
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