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Chris -- 2018-04-11

#1 2008-10-23 00:23:10

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2601

Teatotal(ler) << Teetotal(ler)

A person who completely abstains from something, particularly from intoxicating beverages, is a teetotaller. On the web you will frequently find the word spelled “teatotaller” or “tea-totaller.” One way to avoid the evils of alcohol is to confine one’s drinking to tea, of course, and this may have deflected the word “teetotaler” to this novel spelling. Four of the many hundreds of web examples of “teatotaller” and “teatotal” are given at the end of this post.

On some of these pages you will even find explanations of the etymology of the word based on “tea” (e.g. … 236AAyWseR). The explanations are arrant nonsense- “teetotal” is a simple reduplicative of “total” that became popular in the early nineteenth century. In its earliest uses “teetotal” probably had no direct relationship with alcohol consumption. Last night, for example, while I was reading an excerpt from the journal of one of the U. S. gold rush immigrants, Thomas Christy, I found this: “We have been no little troubled today with the starving immigrants begging for provisions. There is some that is tetotally out” (Hard Road West by Keith Heyer Meldahl, p. 221).

The Lancashireman and temperance reformer Richard Turner is usually credited with the first application of the word to alcohol abstinence. Those who want to know more about this strange word will find a sober assessment of the issues in Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words blog (

By the way, this word is not teetotally new to readers at On the old forum the word gets a one-line mention by Robin Stocks: “Just caught myself writing ‘teatotal’ instead of ‘teetotal’. The mistake is probably as old as the word:” ( Strangely, there is no claim that the word is an eggcorn and no followup discussion. “Teatotally” seems to me a classic eggcorn. Am I missing something?

Web examples:

Comment on an Edinburgh Evening Post piece: “Hibs signed well-renowned wallflower and teatotaller George Best for a spell, not to mention Chic Charnely.” ( …

An Indian marriage connection board: “We are looking for a professionally qualified person working in India/Abroard and must be a teatotaller.” ( … &print=yes)

Post response to a Christian blog: “. He developed a serious drinking problem when we were on the mission field (’87-’91) and then he was a teatotaller for 15 years.” ( … n-eph-533/)

In a list of tips for surviving the coming recession: “Become teatotal: How much alcohol do you drink? A couple of bottles of wine a week? A few pints after work? It all adds up. ” ( … it-crunch/)

Last edited by kem (2008-10-23 12:40:50)

Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.



#2 2008-10-23 06:12:20

Dixon Wragg
From: Cotati, California
Registered: 2008-07-04
Posts: 1277

Re: Teatotal(ler) << Teetotal(ler)

kem wrote:

Strangely, there is no claim that the word is an eggcorn and no followup discussion. “Teatotally” seems to me a classic eggcorn. Am I missing something?

I’m no expert, but I’d have to agree that “teatotaller” is a classic eggcorn, and I too am surprised that it hasn’t seen more “action’ on this site. If anyone thinks it isn’t one, I’d like to hear them make their case against it. Otherwise, let’s get it onto the list.




#3 2008-10-23 11:28:32

Chris Waigl
Eggcorn Faerie
From: London, UK
Registered: 2005-10-14
Posts: 115

Re: Teatotal(ler) << Teetotal(ler)

This one is one (of many) on my personal lists. It’s a very pretty eggcorn, yes.



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