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What is a Teetotaler?

Michael Pollick
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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A person who completely abstains from alcoholic beverages may be called a teetotaler, a description which has surprisingly little to do with the non-alcoholic beverage known as tea. The word actually comes from a relatively obscure grammatical practice known as reduplication. By duplicating the first letter, the speaker gives additional emphasis to the entire word. Before it was applied to fervent non-imbibers, the term "T-total" was already in common use as a synonym for complete or absolute. A teetotaler, therefore, would be a person who has completely or absolutely sworn off the consumption of alcohol.

It is believed the word became popular during British temperance meetings held in the 1830s. A teetotaler may never have taken a single sip of alcohol in his or her entire life, as opposed to a reformed alcoholic or social imbiber. He or she may cite religious or social convictions as the basis for his or her abstinence, or else he or she may have witnessed the effects of alcohol on relatives at an early age. A child of an active alcoholic may choose to never touch alcohol in order to break the cycle or to discourage their own children from picking up the destructive habit.

The temperance movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries have largely faded into history, but the underlying issue of controlling the flow of alcohol into a city or county is still alive. The decision to allow alcohol sales is often left to voters in a referendum, and it is not unusual for local church leaders and social organizations to unite in solidarity against alcohol sales.

A modern teetotaler may or may not have strong opinions about other people's right to consume alcohol. The decision to not drink is generally a personal one, based on one's own moral code. While some may view such a person as someone afraid to take risks or join the popular crowd, others may see him or her as someone capable of taking a strong position on an issue and not compromising due to peer pressure.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to PublicPeople, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon957488 — On Jun 20, 2014

I don't drink because I take medications that don't mix, but the part that drives me nuts is the reaction that non-drinkers get when explaining to an imbiber. It goes something like this:

"What are you drinking?"

"Club soda"

"What? No whiskey, gin? Not even Chardonnay?"

"No, I'm good, thanks"

"Why? Are you Mormon? Are you a recovering alkie?"

(By now, I'm completely tired of discussing it.) "No, it doesn't mix with my medicine."

(Person looks me over to see it I appear ill)

"Not even one? How about Champagne? Wine cooler?"

The badgering goes on and on, until they decided that I'm no fun, and therefore teaming with the alcohol police.

I'm thinking of ordering a drink, then walking around holding it all night. Maybe I could pour it on the floor when no one's looking.

What's up with this? I'm not trying to get anyone to stop drinking. It's just that I can't. How is me staying alive so offensive?

By OeKc05 — On Feb 17, 2013

@lighth0se33 – Generally, a glass of red wine a day probably does good things for your health. However, if you have a health condition like a kidney disease, it can be detrimental.

I used to drink a little until I found out I had polycystic kidney disease. I became a teetotaler after that, because I wanted to do everything I could to prolong my kidney function.

I cut way down on caffeine and totally cut out alcohol. I also stopped eating so much salt and protein.

I feel better than I ever have. I know that becoming a teetotaler is only a part of the reason, but if I didn't stop drinking, I could have destroyed my kidneys in just a few years.

By shell4life — On Feb 16, 2013

I know several people who are teetotalers because of their faith. They believe that a sober mind is needed in order to keep in tune with God and what he wants them to do.

They know that if they drink alcohol, they will lose their inhibitions to a degree, even if they only have a little. A person who isn't used to drinking at all will really feel the effects of just a little alcohol.

They feel they need to maintain control over their actions, and I don't think this is a bad thing. It's no secret that alcohol makes a person do things he normally wouldn't.

By lighth0se33 — On Feb 16, 2013

I have friends who are teetotalers, but I drink a glass of red wine every night for my health. I think this might just make me healthier than my friends, though they wouldn't agree with this.

By cloudel — On Feb 15, 2013

I had the teetotaler meaning all wrong. I really thought it meant the person only drank tea!

I have heard this term used in the South a lot when I visited relatives. Since they drink a lot of sweet tea down there, I just assumed that a teetotaler drank nothing else!

By anon232472 — On Nov 30, 2011

@anon89532: This is not the correct analogy. If a study showed a correlation between driving fast cars and decreased probability of dying in a car wreck and controlled for driver experience, age, gender, income, and location, then there would indeed be something interesting going on.

By anon92207 — On Jun 26, 2010

Why does reading the definition of a word require casting moral judgment on random theoretical persons?

By anon89532 — On Jun 10, 2010

I call anyone who completely abstains from drinking alcoholic beverages a very lame person!

By screenwriter — On Jan 24, 2009

People who drive fast cars but are always careful to observe traffic laws are less likely to die in a car wreck but still that doesn't mean some people shouldn't drive fast cars.

By anon24960 — On Jan 21, 2009

People who drink a little (up to 2 drinks for men and 1 drink for women) have less coronary disease than do teetotalers. Alcoholism has a definite hereditary element to it in that the children of alcoholic parent (or parents) are more likely to become problem drinkers (those for whom the drinking cause problems with work, health or marriage) than teetotalers even if raised by non-alcoholic adoptive parents. So children of alcoholics should be aware of the increased risk to them.

Donald W. Bales, M.D. retired internist

By screenwriter — On Jan 21, 2009

I call anyone who completely abstains from drinking alcoholic beverages A Very Wise Person!

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to PublicPeople, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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