Sum: Origin of Pot 'Cannabis'

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Wed Oct 5 01:09:59 UTC 2005

FWIW, in comic books of the '40's, pot was referred to as "hemp."
Characters were drawn freaking at the sight of it: "Hemp! It... It's -
choke! gasp! - hemp!" The hemp was usually drawn in the form of a
bushy potted plant about three feet tall. Very confusing, since, in
those days, everyone knew that "hemp" was just the stuff that hempen
rope was made of.


On 10/4/05, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Sum: Origin of Pot 'Cannabis'
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> In case anyone was wondering about the upshot of this inquiry (which
> I cross-posted a while back)...
> --- begin forwarded text
> 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
> etymology:
> 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
> --- end forwarded text

-Wilson Gray

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