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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) poor-quality or cheaply-produced alcohol

map of the contiguous united states

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.

For more geographical etymologies like this, take a look at the HH book Around the World in 80 Words here

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