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Teetotalism is the practice and promotion of complete (or T-total) abstinence from alcoholic beverages. A person who practices (and possibly advocates) teetotalism is a called a teetotaler or teetotaller (plural teetotalers or teetotallers.)

People generally choose teetotalism for religious, health, family, or societal reasons, or from a combination thereof. This does not necessarily mean that they cannot participate in social drinking; for instance, for the typical teetotaller, soft drinks are an easily obtainable substitute at most drinking establishments.

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 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. 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.[1] 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 — but this is widely considered to be incorrect.

Other uses[]

  • In Nova Scotia and Ireland, as well as among those who are from those places, it is commonly spelled "tea-totaller" and is a reference to a love for tea over coffee, alcohol, or other strong beverages and bears no social stigma.
  • Within Scotland and England teetotalism is a state which is generally respected and carries no stigma whatsoever. In India, teetotalism is often the norm in middle class society, and is very commonly the norm for women of all strata.
  • Another definition of a teetotaler is one who abstains from alcohol and drugs of any form, to include narcotics and other stimulants.


Nephalism, temperance, abstinence and restraint are acceptable synonyms for teetotalism. Abstinence and restraint have other, sometimes sexual meanings. Their use must be clarified either explicitly or clearly in context.

Numerous idioms and slang terms imply abstinence from alcohol. Common American usage includes "on the wagon," which is frequently associated with those who have had a problem with alcohol in the past, 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[]

  • Christianity and alcohol
  • Islam and alcohol
  • Sobriety

External links[]


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  1. Online Etymology Dictionary - T, page 5. URL accessed on 2007-04-30.