New Internationalist

Word Corner - Alcohol

Issue 347

Alcohol Originally alcohol was a powder, not a drink. The word alcohol is from the Arabic al-kuhl, meaning ‘the kohl‘. Kohl was made from powdered antimony, a metallic chemical element. Subsequently the word alcohol was used for any spirit produced by distillation, and later still for any intoxicating drink, regardless of whether produced by distillation or fermentation. The Arabic ‘al‘ (‘the‘) is found in other English words such as: alchemy (al kimiya, the art of transmuting base metals into gold); alcove (al qubba, the vaulted chamber); algebra (al-jebr, bone-setting, or the reduction of parts to make a whole); and alkali (al-qali, the ashes of plants such as saltwort, growing on alkaline soil).

Susan Watkin

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