drink the kool-aid (1982, 1985)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Aug 13 21:25:33 UTC 2010

At 4:49 PM -0400 8/13/10, Ben Zimmer wrote:
>Good one. What's interesting about the 1981 and 1982 cites is that
>they're both of the form "drink the kool-aid of X," where X is
>something that the speaker feels we're being brainwashed into
>accepting unthinkingly (nuclear power, environmental pollution). That
>strikes me as slightly different from the "obedience or loyalty" sense
>captured in the OED def.

Very slightly, in that the original version where X = Jonestown is
understood could be interpreted in just this way--drinking the
kool-aid of Jonestown (or drink the Jonestown kool-aid) would refer
to the whole gestalt, demonstrating unquestioning loyalty to the
ideals of Jim Jones and the Jonestown community.  Then it's just a
question of what you substitute for Jonestown as the value of X.
There are cases, though, in which we get both X and the reference to
Jonestown, making the "substitution" idea less plausible:

He should have never looked into the eyes of Obama and drank the
Jonestown kool-aid

Incredible, they drink the Jonestown Kool Aid from the right, even after
it has been discredited.

the Red Sox are wishing they had drank the Jonestown Kool Aid instead
of putting all that money into Dice K a few years back

Hab [Montreal Canadiens] fans like me have drank the Jonestown
Kool-Aid into believing in Bob Gainey, and we've stuck to it since he
came in.

Those who make it through the rigorous interviewing process and drink
the Jonestown Kool-aid usually do well.

Oh, & don't EVER, EVER mention the Nissan Titan or you will be beaten
unmerciful by the Ford faithful who drink the Jonestown kool-aid.


>On Fri, Aug 13, 2010 at 4:29 PM, Sam Clements <SClements at neo.rr.com> wrote:
>>  A slightly earlier cite using newspaperarchive.  (Allen Ginsberg speaking at
>>  Gettysburg College)
>>  20 February 1981  _Gettysburg(PA) Times_   Front page, col. 1
>>  "We are all being put in the place of the citizens of Jonestown, being told
>>  by our leaders to drink the Kool Aid of nuclear power."
>>  At least, I hope this is the same meaning.
>>  Sam Clements
>>  ----- Original Message -----
>>  From: "Benjamin Zimmer" <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
>>  Sent: Friday, August 13, 2010 16:06
>>  Subject: drink the kool-aid (1982, 1985)
>>>  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?
>>>  http://books.google.com/books?id=wlcMzrtP0c4C&pg=PA112
>>>  ---
>>>  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:
>>>  http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0509D&L=ADS-L&P=25814
>>>  Also suggested by the Wikipedia entry:
>>>  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drinking_the_Kool-Aid
>>>  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.
>>>  http://books.google.com/books?id=whINWQng1dUC
>>>  ---
>>>  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
>>>  "downer."
>>>  --bgz
>>>  --
>>>  Ben Zimmer
>>>  http://benzimmer.com/
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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