When I was writing The Cartoon Guide to Recreational Drugs I scoured the local libraries and bookstores looking for useful and interesting historical works. Origins is one of my sources.

The parts I generally took notes from were either about the drugs themselves or the prohibition of drugs. You’ll find the information garnered from these books throughout the Prohibition Politics section of this site. It will also have informed some of my own postings stored in the older Prohibition Politics archive.

If you find this information useful, you will want to search out the books themselves to read the text in context. All of the books here are at least moderately interesting.


Eric Partridge’s “Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English” is a dense work filled with fascinating detail. If you are at all interested in etymology, this is the one book to have.

alcohol whence the sl alky and the adj, hence n, alcoholic

Alcohol comes direct from ML, which adapted it from Ar al-kuhl, ‘the (al) powder (kuhl: whence E kohl)’ for painting the eyelids. For al, cf: alcove

ale; alegar; alum—aluminum, aluminum; aluminous

Alegar blends ale and vinegar: and ale derives from OE aluf, var ealu, akin to ON öl, ale, and Osl ol[u hacek], beer—and also to L alūmen (alum), whence, via OF-MF alum (EF-F alun), the ME and F alum, which tastes astringent; ‘basic idea: bitter’ (Webster). L alūmen, o/s alumin-, yields the Chem alumina, whence aluminium (Sci suffix -ium) and AE aluminum, both with adj aluminous, prompted by L alūminōsus, the adj of alūmen, perh akin, incidentally, to Gr aludiomon or aludimon, prop the neu s of aludoimos, bitter.

Cocoa, a Sp word influenced by prec, derives from Sp cacao, itself from Nahuatl or Aztec cacahuatl, the seed of the cacao tree.

Hemp, whence the adjj hempen and the mostly dial hempy; cf the sep CANVAS, where also cannabis.

Hemp, ME hemp, is an easing of OE henep or haenep: cf ON hampr, OS hanap, OHG hanaf, MHG hanef, G Hanf, MD hanep, hannep, hennip, and, as in D, hennep; cf also Gr kannabis (L cannabis), OB Konoplja, Pol konop, Lith kanãpes. The Gms, Gr, Osl words app go back to ‘some old E European language’: Walshe cites a Cheremiss and a Zyrjän word, these two languages being Finno-Ugric: ‘a wandering culture-word of wide diffusion.’

Hero, heroic, heroine, heroism.

….The basic sense of both Hera and hero would therefore be ‘protector’.

Laudanum, whence laudanin(e) (laudanum + Chem -in, -ine), is a SciL word, prob from ML laudanum, var of L lādanum, lēdanum, a resinous juice from the Cyprian shrub lada, leda, ledon: Gr lēdanon, from the shrub lēdon, itself o.o.o.: perh Medit. Paracelsus was app the first (early in C16) to apply laudanum to an opiate preparation; Thomas Sydenham (C17) to use it in liquid form.

opium; opiate; opopanax.

Opium, adopted from L, derives from Gr opion, poppy-juice, dim of opos, vegetable juice: perh cf Osl soku, juice of plants or fruits, and OP sackis, Lith sakai (pl), resin, gum, Let svakas, resin. L opium has the ML derivative adj opiātus, soporific, whence the n opiātum, a soporific, when E opiate. Gr opos has cpd opopanax, with 2nd element panax, a sort of plant, from the adj panakēs, all-healing: cf, at element opo-, the cpd opobalsam.