Teetotalism refers to either the practice of, or the promotion of, complete 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]

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). 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. 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 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.

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

The origin of the phrase "On the wagon" derives from a period of time in London, upon where those being transported by wagon on the way to "gallows adjacent" (also known as the Tyburn gallows ) Marble arch would commonly stop at the famous pub near the execution grounds. It's said that the accused were offered (most likely, mockingly so) a final beverage by a persons of the tavern, where they would be denied it due to them being "on the wagon" - unfit to receive any gestures of perceived compassion.

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

Main article: List of teetotalers

Islam, Hindu philosophy, Jainism, some sects of Buddhism, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), 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.

See also




fr:Abstème nl:Geheelonthouding pl:Abstynent alkoholowy fi:Absolutismi (päihteet) sv:Absolutism (alkohol) tr:Teetotalizm

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