Sum: Origin of Pot 'Cannabis'

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Oct 4 19:24:32 UTC 2005

In case anyone was wondering about the upshot of this inquiry (which
I cross-posted a while back)...
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LINGUIST List: Vol-16-2853. Tue Oct 04 2005. ISSN: 1068 - 4875.

Subject: 16.2853, Sum: Origin of Pot 'Cannabis'
Date: Tue, 04 Oct 2005 12:09:32
From: Max Wheeler < m.w.wheeler at >
Subject: Origin of Pot 'Cannabis'

Regarding query:

I asked the following:

''The Oxford English Dictionary s.v. POT n.5 says 'prob. f. Mexican
Sp._potiguaya_ marijuana leaves'. Many English language websites tell the
same story, some giving the supposed variant Spanish forms _potaguaya_ or
_potacion de guaya_.

''I have so far found no evidence that _potiguaya_, _potaguaya_ or
_potacion de guaya_ are in fact used in Spanish. I would be interested to
know of any evidence that any of these expressions is used in any variety
of Spanish. If any of them is used, I would also like to know the meaning.''

None of the replies has confirmed the use of any of these three variant
expressions in Spanish. Philip Durkin explains the source of the OED's
David W. Maurer 'Argot of the Underworld Narcotic Addict' American Speech
11 (1936) 116-27: ''potiguaya, Marajuana (sic) leaves after the pods have
been removed; crude marajuana''.

Among the alternative ideas, Scott DeLancey suggests that ''_pot_ is
metonymic extension of _tea_, which is a widespread term for cannabis (in
the form of dried leaves)''. David Drewelow suggests other possible
metonymies from e.g. a pipe with a 'pot bowl', or marijuana as a 'potted
plant', or 'drug pots' for holding or drying drugs, and draws to my notice
that Nahuatl _poctli_ means 'smoke'.

So far, though, no documentary or circumstantial evidence points to a
choice between these various possibilities, or towards any of these in
preference to other conceivable or actual suggestions.

The mystery remains.

Many thanks to those mentioned above and to Damien Hall, Lee Hartman and
Otto Carsten

Linguistic Field(s): Lexicography

LINGUIST List: Vol-16-2853

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