It seems we’re always late to the party here at HH. Yes, it was July 4 last Monday but, hey—what can you do?
So. A very belated Happy Independence Day to anyone reading this over in the States, and in honour (or rather honor) of your celebrations, this week on the HH YouTube channel we’re looking at 10 places in the United States that somehow ended up in the dictionary.
Dinner jackets. Outdoor symposiums. Endless, mind-numbing political speeches. Frankly, it’s all here.
One little bit of linguistic Americana that didn’t make the final cut this week, however, is hooch.
As a slang term for alcohol—and in particular homemade or rough quality alcohol—the word hooch first appeared in the language in the late nineteenth century. It derives from the name of the Hoochinoo, a tribe of Tlingit Native Americans based on Admiralty Island in the far southeast of Alaska. And as they knew all too well, if there’s one thing guaranteed to keep you warm on a cold southeast Alaskan night, it’s home-brewed alcohol. Apparently.
The Hoochinoo had long manufactured their own liquor, but when the Klondike Gold Rush brought 100,000 prospectors to the region in mid-1890s, they realised they had the perfect captive audience. Before long, they were making a considerable profit selling their alcoholic beverages to the prospectors hoping to strike it rich in the Yukon—and to the prospectors, the name Hoochinoo, and eventually the reduced form hooch, came to be their byword of choice for potent, home-brewed booze. (Booze, incidentally, is another story for another day…)
As for the Hoochinoo themselves, they took their name from a local Tlingit word, Hutsnuwu, literally meaning “grizzly bear fort”—thought to be either the name of one of the tribe’s settlements on the island, or else a local name for the island itself. All of which makes hooch the perfect geographical accompaniment to your tuxedo, your Denver boots and, of course, absolute bunkum.