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The Drunkard's Progress, a lithograph by Nathaniel Currier supporting the temperance movement (January 1846)

Teetotalism is the practice or promotion of complete personal abstinence from alcoholic beverages. A person who practices (and possibly advocates) teetotalism is called a teetotaler (also spelled teetotaller; plural teetotalers or teetotallers) or is simply said to be teetotal. The teetotalism movement was first started in Preston, England in the early 19th century.[1] The Preston Temperance Society was founded by 1833 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."

Some common reasons for choosing teetotalism are psychological, religious, health, medical, familial, philosophical and social, or sometimes it is simply a matter of taste or preference. When at drinking establishments, teetotalers either abstain from drinking completely, or consume non-alcoholic beverages such as soft drinks, tea, coffee and mocktails.

Contemporary and colloquial usage has somewhat expanded teetotalism to include strict abstinence from most recreational intoxicants (legal and illegal).[citation needed] Most teetotaler organizations also demand from their members that they do not promote or produce alcoholic intoxicants.


One anecdote attributes the origin of the word to a meeting of the Preston Temperance Society in 1833. The story attributes the word to Dicky Turner, a member of the society, who in a speech said "I’ll be reet down out-and-out t-t-total for ever and ever".[2]

A variation on the above account is found on the pages of The Charleston Observer: Teetotalers.--The origin of this convenient word, (as convenient almost, although not so general in its application as loafer,) is, we imagine, known but to few who use it. It originated, as we learn from the Landmark, with a man named Turner, a member of the Preston Temperance Society, who, having an impediment of speech, in addressing a meeting remarked, that partial abstinence from intoxicating liquors would not do; they must insist upon tee-tee-(stammering) tee total abstinence. Hence total abstainers have been called teetotalers.[3]

An alternative explanation is that teetotal is simply a duplication of the first '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.[4] 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; a comparable American English locution would be "total with a capital T" (an instance of the "[word] with a capital [word-initial letter]" snowclone). In this context, the word is still used, predominantly in the southern United States.[citation needed]

A common misspelling is "tea totaler", implying that the person prefers to drink tea instead of alcoholic beverages.


Nephalism,[5] temperance, abstinence, abstemiousness, and restraint are synonyms for teetotalism.

Numerous idioms and slang terms imply abstinence from alcohol

A common American term is "on the (water) wagon", which frequently means those who have had a problem with alcohol, as well as the terms "dry" and "sober".

"Straight edge" is a newer idiom for abstaining from alcohol and other intoxicants, referring to a sub-culture born within hardcore punk that promotes abstinence from promiscuous sex, alcohol, drugs and cigarettes.

"Temperance" was a more popular term in the 19th century and early 20th century when temperance unions throughout the US battled consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Notable teetotalers[edit]

Main article: List of teetotalers

Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, some sects of Buddhism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), Seventh-day Adventist Church, Amish, Old Order Mennonites, Conservative Mennonites, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Sikhism, the Baha'i Faith and the Salvation Army are notable religious groups that require adherents to abstain from alcohol. Members are also required to refrain from selling such products. A translation of the New Testament, the Purified Translation of the Bible, translates in a way that promotes teetotalism.

Ironically Johnnie Walker of Scotch whisky fame was a teetotaler.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Road to Zion - British Isles, BYU-TV; http://byutv.org/watch/801-207
  2. ^ Quinion, Michael. "Teetotal". worldwidewords.org. Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  3. ^ The Charleston Observer vol. 10, no. 44 (29 October 1836): 174, columns 4-5.
  4. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary - T, page 5". Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  5. ^ From Greek νήφω (verb) = "I do not drink wine", νηφάλιος (adjective) = "not drinking wine"