AskDefine | Define teetotalism

Dictionary Definition

teetotalism n : abstaining from alcohol [syn: teetotaling]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Abstinence from the consumption of alcohol.

Extensive Definition

Teetotalism (or T-total) is the practice and 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). Such people are said to be on the wagon unless they've never consumed alcoholic beverages (someone who is 'on the wagon' has usually needed to stop drinking, hence 'falling off the wagon').
People generally choose teetotalism for religious, health, family, philosophical and/or social reasons. When at drinking establishments, they either abstain from drinking or consume non-alcoholic beverages such as water, juice, and soft drinks.
Contemporary and colloquial usage has somewhat expanded teetotalism to include strict abstinence from most "recreational" intoxicants (legal and illegal, see controlled substances). Most teetotaller organizations also demand from their members that they do not promote or produce non-alcoholic intoxicants.


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".
A more likely explanation is that teetotal is simply a repetition 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. 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, but 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.

Other uses

  • In Nova Scotia it is commonly spelled "tea-totaller" and refers to a love for tea over coffee, alcohol, or other strong beverages and bears no stigma among drinkers.
  • In India, teetotalism was often the expected norm in upper caste, middle class society, and was the expected norm for women of all strata.
  • Another definition of a teetotaler is one who abstains from alcohol and intoxicating drugs of any kind, including narcotics.


Nephalism, temperance, abstinence and restraint are synonyms for teetotalism. Abstinence and restraint have other, sometimes sexual connotations.
Numerous idioms and slang terms imply abstinence from alcohol. Common American terms includes "on the wagon," which frequently means those who have had a problem with alcohol, as well as the terms "dry" and "sober." "Straight-edge" is one of the newer idioms for abstaining from alcohol and other intoxicants.

See also

teetotalism in German: Alkoholgegner
teetotalism in Finnish: Absolutismi (alkoholi)
teetotalism in French: Abstème
teetotalism in Dutch: Geheelonthouder
teetotalism in Swedish: Absolutism (alkohol)
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