Why is ‘Pot’ Slang for Marijuana?

How did the word for a common kitchen instrument become slang for marijuana?

Actually, the origin of pot has nothing to do with the culinary tools. The word came into use in America in the late 1930s. It is a shortening of the Spanish potiguaya or potaguaya that came from potación de guaya, a wine or brandy in which marijuana buds have been steeped. It literally means “the drink of grief.”

Tonight, this grief drink will be the topic of hot debate when city council members in Oakland, California vote on a historic measure that would create licensed medical marijuana factories.

If the plan is approved, the city would license four production plants that would grow, package, and process medical marijuana. Supporters say the plan will provide the city with two things it direly needs: tax revenue and jobs. Opponents decry the wholesale legitimization of a substance that is a narcotic in most of the United States.

Like pot, the word marijuana refers to cannabis, the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. The plant grows naturally in central Asia and other warm regions. Its uses vary from recreational to medicinal to religious.

Marijuana is the dried leaves and female flowers of the hemp plant. The word’s origin dates back to the late nineteenth century. It is an Americanism for the Mexican Spanish marihuana or mariguana, which is associated with the personal name María Juana.

Another name for marijuana is Mary Jane, the English version of María Juana. Mary Jane also refers to a small, round sponge cake and a brand of young girls’ patent leather shoes.

The origin of the word “coffee” is much more mysterious than the names for marijuana. Learn the beautiful name for coffee in Arabic in this earlier post.

Whatever you call it — ganja, weed, reefer, tea, bhang, leaf, or skunk — it may soon be legally factory farmed in record amounts in Oakland. What do you think?


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