what is a teetotaler

At the beginning of the temperance movement, most temperance societies didn’t see anything wrong with wine, beer, or cider. Instead, it seems more likely that it was an old term of a type known as a “republicate.” Republication means to repeat sounds in a word, or similar sounds, often as a means to emphasize them. Turner may have used the word teetotal often, helping it to become more widespread, or it may have already been in use by the temperance movement, and Turner helped to cement it.

The basis of AA was the Twelve Steps program, which outlines the group’s principles and methods for recovery. According to a publication by the Centennial Temperance Conference (CTC) of Philadelphia in 1885, “One Hundred Years of Temperance,” though, there was an American society that used a total abstinence pledge as early as 1826 and used the word “Teetotal” as early as 1827. The idea that Turner made an impassioned speech on total abstinence after wandering into a meeting one day seems to be an invention. Turner spoke of “signing the pledge.” Stories are also told that Temperance Societies would have people sign moderation pledges or total pledges. Those taking the total pledge would place a “T” after their name so that they became known as T-totalers, and later, teetotalers.

Some societies also issued a pledge card that featured the member’s name, the date of the pledge, and other details, such as the name and logo of the temperance society or illustrations depicting the miseries of drinking compared with the happiness of sobriety. It is not known exactly when, why, and where this movement first began, but most early histories do indeed seem to place the first “teetotal society” in Preston, in 1832. The Preston society did begin using a total abstinence pledge in 1832 and it did become known as the teetotal pledge. Another quite silly, origin claim is that the “tee” started as “tea” and referred to drinking tea (or other beverages) instead of alcohol. More likely, teetotal was simply a misspelling of teetotal, which caused people to believe that it had something to do with tea.

Informal annual events such as “Dry January” or “Sober October” also encourage participants to abstain from alcohol and promote their abstinence on social media. In other words, someone, or more than one person, may have referred to them as teetotalers, using a known word, and only later was it supposed that this came about because of the “T” written on the pledge rolls. Whether this is true, or whether the word came about independently at around the same time in Both England and U.S., the evidence cannot show.

what is a teetotaler

Teetotalism, the practice or promotion of total abstinence from alcoholic drinks. It became popular as part of the temperance movement in the early 19th century in Great Britain and North America. Unlike temperance advocates, who promoted moderation in alcohol consumption or abstention solely from hard liquor (distilled spirits), people who practice teetotalism, known as teetotalers, abstain from all alcohol, including beer and wine. Some common reasons for choosing teetotalism are psychological, religious, health,[12] medical, philosophical, social, political, past alcoholism, or simply preference.


A person who abstains from alcohol might choose tea as his or her alternative beverage, but the word teetotaler has nothing to do with tea. More likely, the “tee” that begins the word teetotal is a reduplication of the letter “t” that begins total, emphasizing that one has pledged total abstinence. In the early 1800s, tee-total and tee-totally were used to intensify total and totally, much the way we now might say, mesclun vs mesculin everything you need to know “I’m tired with a capital T.” “I am now … wholly, solely, and teetotally absorbed in Wayne’s business,” wrote the folklorist Parson Weems in an 1807 letter. Teetotal and teetotaler first appeared with their current meanings in 1834, eight years after the formation of the American Temperance Society. But that still doesn’t mean that the term was not used in England and that it was not already a known word.

Lees is a source of the “archaic usage” claim and says that Turner was using a term that had been in use in Ireland and Lancashire for a hundred years, and which could be found in the literature of England long before Turner used it. That teetotal was a long-established Lancashire term was backed up by other contemporaries. These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word ‘teetotaler.’ Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors.

what is a teetotaler

The fact Turner mentions signing the “teetotal pledge” rather than the “total pledge” suggests that it was a more or less accepted way of describing the pledge, and using the word may not support the idea that he had coined the word by an accidental stutter. So, a teetotaler wasn’t someone who “doesn’t drink” as much as it is someone who “doesn’t drink distilled spirits, or wine, or beer, or anything else.” You could still “practice temperance without being a teetotaler. Studies in the late 2010s indicated a decline in youth drinking in Western countries, with more than one-fourth of English youth in their mid-teens to mid-20s and nearly three-tenths of college-age Americans claiming total abstinence.

Teetotaler: Why are People Who Don’t Drink Called This?

In Dublin, the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart (Pioneers) was founded in 1898 by another priest, James Cullen. All content on this website, including dictionary, thesaurus, literature, geography, and other reference data is for informational purposes only. This information should not be considered complete, up to date, and is not intended to be used in place of a visit, consultation, or advice of a legal, medical, or any other professional. There are several common origin stories, which I will report here along with some speculation as to the credibility to each one. I make no claims to knowing the exact origin of the word, and one or more of these stories may have some truth in them. Opinions changed, and one reason for this was that it became known that non-spirituous liquors did indeed contain alcohol, only at a lesser volume.

  1. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, developed as a fellowship group for alcoholics seeking recovery through total abstinence.
  2. Teetotalism, the practice or promotion of total abstinence from alcoholic drinks.
  3. The fellowship group for reformed alcoholics was founded in 1840 in Baltimore, Maryland, by six men seeking to help one another and others to maintain their sobriety.
  4. The idea that Turner made an impassioned speech on total abstinence after wandering into a meeting one day seems to be an invention.

In other words, temperance began as a movement calling for abstinence from hard liquors like whiskey, rum, gin, etc. Wine, beer, and cider were often accepted and even recommended as a good substitute for hard spirits. It is sometimes claimed that he put the “tee” at the beginning for the general reason described above, as emphasis. Still another claim is that Turner didn’t invent the word, but that it was an archaic word from the Lancashire dialect.

Teetotaler Origin

Over time, the Washingtonians attracted as many as 600,000 members, with chapters throughout the United States. Notably, they welcomed many groups that other temperance societies excluded, including Roman Catholics and Black Americans. Women formed their own Washingtonian chapters, Martha Washington societies, and called themselves “Marthas.” By the late 1840s, most Washingtonian chapters had stopped meeting owing to declining membership. Teetotalers in the 19th century who belonged to temperance societies typically signed a pledge promising to abstain from alcohol.

Dictionary Entries Near teetotaler

Members of temperance organizations sang songs, organized marches to shut down saloons or pass prohibition laws, circulated pamphlets about the cause, and gave speeches on the moral problems caused by drinking. Teetotalism was embraced by some religious groups and moral reformers as the answer to the problems of poverty, unemployment or work absenteeism, declining church attendance, crime, and domestic violence. It was encouraged among the working class, whereas moderation was more readily accepted among the upper classes, who could afford wine. Instead, the word “teetotal” or “tee-total” appears in a great many publications from 1830 onward. Indeed, as early as 1830, and probably before, temperance societies were known as “teetotal societies.” What’s more, the word appears in American printed publications almost as often as British publications and also appears in Irish ones.

When at drinking establishments, teetotalers (or teetotallers) either abstain from drinking totally or consume non-alcoholic beverages such as water, juice, tea, coffee, non-alcoholic soft drinks, virgin drinks, mocktails, and alcohol-free beer. Later, attitudes changed and wine, beer, gabapentin withdrawal and cider came to be seen as just as much of a problem as spirits. Therefore the temperance movement began to call for total abstinence from all alcohol-containing beverages. You could still practice moderation, and only cut out spirits, but you were encouraged to be a teetotaler.

From the early days of the mass temperance movement, total abstinence from alcohol was promoted by some advocates, such as Presbyterian clergyman Lyman Beecher, who published Six Sermons on the Nature, Occasions, Signs, Evils, and Remedy of Intemperance in 1827. By 1836, when the American national temperance convention formally endorsed total abstinence, many temperance societies had switched from promoting moderation to advocating for abstinence. By this time, membership in temperance societies had reached about 1.5 million in the United States. It was also estimated that about a quarter of a million individuals were practicing total abstinence.

People often invent origin tales of this sort when somewhat archaic words are used, and then a similarity is noticed, such as the “T” meaning total and total abstinence pledgers being known as teetotalers. In the 19th century, the Preston Temperance Society in England and, later, the American Temperance Union encouraged a pledge of abstinence from intoxicating liquor, as part of the temperance movement. Those who had signed the pledge were asked to use a T with their signature to mean “total abstinence.” The T plus the “total” led to those who’d signed the pledge alcoholic eyes being called T-totallers or teetotallers. Whereas many temperance groups lobbied for prohibition, the Washington Temperance Society, whose members were known as the Washingtonians, emphasized individual reform over societal reform. The fellowship group for reformed alcoholics was founded in 1840 in Baltimore, Maryland, by six men seeking to help one another and others to maintain their sobriety. They recruited other people in their community, even non-alcoholics, and held regular meetings in which they shared their experiences with drinking and sobriety.