Wiki WormholeWe explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,664,405-week series, Wiki Wormhole.  

This week’s entry: Teetotalism

What it’s about: Since the invention of alcohol, there have been people who eschew the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems, for a variety of reasons. But not until the 1830s did teetotaling—abstaining from booze—become a movement. That movement has ebbed and flowed with the times, but there have always been people committed to staying on the wagon.


Strangest fact: No one’s entirely sure where the word “teetotaler” comes from. It seems to be derived from “total,” as in total abstinence. One story says a man at an early temperance meeting with a stammer repeated the T in total. Other accounts say members of the movement simply wanted to emphasize “total with a capital T.”

Biggest controversy: Methodists were once teetotalers, but have come to embrace the bottle. Many religions prohibit alcohol, including Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Baha’i, Hare Krishna, and several Christian sects, including Quakers, Mormons, Mennonites, the Amish, Seventh-Day Adventists, the Assemblies Of God, and even the Salvation Army. (The Wiki page also says Scientologists have a religious prohibition against alcohol, but no part of that is true; Scientology is not a real religion, and only prohibits alcohol during and immediately before auditing sessions.) Buddhism does not prohibit alcohol, but it discourages using any substances that “disturb the peace and self-control of the mind.” Methodists were leading figures in the temperance movement, and the faith placed an emphasis on abstinence, but this seems to have fallen slightly by the wayside, as drinking (or not) is up to the conscience of the individual churchgoer.

Thing we were happiest to learn: The ranks of teetotalers are vast and often surprising. Famous people listed who quit drinking or never started in the first place include Buzz Aldrin, Muhammad Ali, Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Chuck Berry, Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Cory Booker, Warren Buffett, Chuck D, chocolatier John Cadbury, Dan Castellaneta, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, Stonewall Jackson, Steve Jobs, Bruce Lee, Dr. Phil McGraw, Cam Newton, Friedrich Nietzsche, John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Sr., Mitt Romney, Henry David Thoreau, and Malcolm X, not to mention a parade of hard-partying actors and musicians who cleaned up their act later in life. Several presidents at home and abroad also abstained from booze, in fact, including Abraham Lincoln, George W. Bush (later in life), Rutherford B. Hayes, Nelson Mandela, Shinzo Abe, Robert Mugabe, and future president Donald Trump.


Thing we were unhappiest to learn: The American temperance movement’s success was also its undoing. In the early 20th century, the Anti-Saloon League became the nation’s preeminent teetotaler organization, and as they were successful in getting local alcohol bans enacted, the League began to push for a national ban. They succeeded in lobbying for the 18th Amendment, passed in 1920, but within a decade, prohibition was widely considered a failure, and associated with the rise of bootlegging and organized crime. The League also had ties to the Ku Klux Klan, which brought plenty of negative associations. By the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the League was essentially finished, although it still exists today as the American Council On Alcohol Problems.

Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: The Wedding Of The Weddings is an unusual event held each year for the past 20 years in Poland. It’s a dance party for couples (and their families) who had non-alcoholic wedding receptions. The tradition started with Reverend Władysław Zązel, who was well-known for performing weddings in which no alcohol was served afterwards. After discussing the practice on a radio show, he was contacted by listeners all over the country who had had teetotaler weddings themselves. He decided to get them together to celebrate their alcohol-free celebrations, and a yearly tradition was born. The Wedding is held in a different Polish city every year, except for 1999, when the event took place in Rome, and was blessed by Pope John Paul II.

Further down the wormhole: Alcohol’s appeal, and its danger, lies in the fact that it’s intoxicating. Wikipedia links that word to toxicity, a word usually intended for a substance that kills more than just brain cells, namely poison. There’s a long history of poison stretching back into the mists of time, and throughout the ages there is a list of poisonings that are notable for one reason or another. We’ll tangle with Mr. Yuk next week.