Sum: Origin of Pot 'Cannabis'

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Wed Oct 5 04:06:03 UTC 2005

>''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'.

I note that Maurer defined "potiguaya" in AS in 1936, corrected his
definition in AS in 1938, and then remarked in a review of Partridge's work
in AS in 1951: <<... I am curious as to how he established the spelling of
_potiguaya_ (marijuana), which I have always naively regarded as a
philological error, regrettably perpetrated in my early contacts with the
criminal drug addict.>>. I don't know exactly what he means by this,
whether he has changed his mind about the spelling or about the existence
of the word or what.

I have some question about the likelihood of "pot" < Spanish "potiguaya". I
think the first part of the Spanish word would tend to give "pote" in
English, unless the contraction were based on spelling (which seems
unlikely given the general lack of printed examples of "potiguaya").

Anyway, I can't find the ancestral "potiguaya"/"potaguaya"/"pote de
gualla"/"pote-ralla"/"potacion de guayaba" or whatever.

Me, I kind of like "pot" as a code for "tea" (that don't make it true of

-- Doug Wilson

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