drink the kool-aid (1982, 1985)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Aug 13 20:06:29 UTC 2010

OED3 dates "drink the kool-aid" ('to demonstrate unquestioning
obedience or loyalty') to 1987. Here it is from 1982, metaphorically
extended from the Jonestown massacre:

1982 John Caris _Reality Inspector_ 112 Did contemporary society now
have a leakage problem; was it losing its survival consciousness; was
it attempting a global Jonestown incident? How long would people
continue to drink the kool-ade of environmental pollution and
tranquilized thinking?

In a 2005 thread I noted that, for some, the expression could be
understood as relating not to Jonestown but to Ken Kesey's Electric
Kool-Aid Acid Tests:


Also suggested by the Wikipedia entry:

The acid-spiked alternative reading is at play in this 1985 cite:

1985 _Akron (OH) Beacon Journal_ 26 June (NewsBank) Even if you don't
drink the Kool-Aid, a Grateful Dead show is a trip.

Most of the other mid-'80s cites in the databases are Jonestownesque, however:

1985 Carole Bayer Sager _Extravagant Gestures_ 40 How lucky for both
of us that you were not in Jonestown, for surely you would have drank
the Kool-Aid.
1985 _Washington Post_ 23 Sep. C1/2 What he didn't want, Foley was
telling Joyce Aboussie, Gephardt's campaign manager, was "what I call
the politics of Jim Jones, you know, that 'let's drink the Kool-Aid'
kind of downer."

Still, I wonder if the happier evocation of acid tests helped to keep
the image of "drinking the kool-aid" from being too much of a


Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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