Why Are Alcoholic Drinks Called 'Booze'?

The term has a few origin stories.
Panpetch Petchphloy via Getty Images

Booze cruise. Boozy brunch. Booze it up. It’s clear “booze” is part of our vocabulary when it comes to drinking culture. But where did this term come from, and why do we use it to refer to alcoholic beverages?

According to one legend, the origin of the word dates back to a 19th-century American distiller named Edmund Booz. Based in Philadelphia, Mr. Booz operated a successful business that became known for its log cabin-shaped whiskey bottles. Although many attribute the word “booze” to Booz’s influence, it seems the story is just a myth.

Vintage bottles from Booz's distillery are available on <a href="http://www.ebay.com/cln/betail/e-c-boozs-old-cabin-whiskey/73157526014" target="_blank" role="link" class=" js-entry-link cet-external-link" data-vars-item-name="eBay" data-vars-item-type="text" data-vars-unit-name="5aeb2414e4b0c4f1931fb0cf" data-vars-unit-type="buzz_body" data-vars-target-content-id="http://www.ebay.com/cln/betail/e-c-boozs-old-cabin-whiskey/73157526014" data-vars-target-content-type="url" data-vars-type="web_external_link" data-vars-subunit-name="article_body" data-vars-subunit-type="component" data-vars-position-in-subunit="2">eBay</a>.
Vintage bottles from Booz's distillery are available on eBay.

Arthur Shapiro, author of Inside the Bottle: People, Brands, and Stories, posited another theory on his Booze Business blog, where he shared an origin story involving a contingent of American troops during World War I. “These troops were in a southwestern French town with no alcohol to consume except for the local wine,” Shapiro wrote. “The town was Buzet ... as in Buzet Wine ... as in ‘what’s this here booze?’”

This story, however, also seems to be a myth. In fact, scholars have found examples of the word “bouse” in reference to drinking alcohol in English-language texts from the 14th century, and the spelling “booze” reportedly showed up in the 17th century.

According to 18th-century English lexicographer Samuel Johnson, the verb “to bouse” meant “to drink lavishly,” the adjective “bousy” meant “drunken,” and a “bousing can” was a term for a drinking cup.

How “bouse” entered the English language is a point of debate, though the widespread theory is that the word is of Dutch or Germanic origin.

IvanZivkovic via Getty Images

Some commonly cited words are the Old German “bausen” and “bauschen,” which mean “to bulge, billow or swell” ― as well as the Old Dutch word for “to drink excessively,” which has been identified as “búsen,” “bûsen” and “buizen.” On the Dutch side, there’s also the old word “buise” for “a large drinking-vessel.”

Although the Dutch and Germanic origin story seems to be the most widely accepted, scholars have also suggested that “booze” could be related to the old Persian-Turkish word “boza,” which refers to an alcoholic beverage as well.

Whatever the true origin of “booze” may be, all we have to say is “bottoms up!” And drink responsibly.

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