On July 23, Justin Trudeau, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, provoked a media stir by saying he favours legalization, regulation and taxation of the hallucinogenic drug, marijuana. Citing crime statistics related to alcohol prohibition in the last century, he linked those to today’s treatment of marijuana users.
Marijuana, also called “cannabis,” refers to the dried leaves, flowering tops, and stems of the hemp plant. It is defined as, “A hemp plant of the genus Cannabis, especially Indian Hemp.”
Cannabis is used recreationally as an intoxicating or hallucinogenic agent. It is usually smoked by users in the form of a cigarette.
Hemp, correctly called Indian Hemp, is native to Asia. It is cultivated both for its fibre, used in making rope and for the drug. The word hemp has been in English since 1597 when it was spelled haenep. The word is from the Old Teutonic hanapiz (cannabis in Latin).
Nearly every news article, both in print and in the electronic media, used the word “pot” throughout their reports. In fact, pot was so overwhelmingly employed by media, it seemed to be just another synonym for marijuana. No viewer or reader would ever suspect that pot is slang.
Nevertheless, although pot is well-understood to mean marijuana, it continues to be classified as slang. If you look up this word, you’ll find that pot’s drug-related meaning is relegated to about 10th listing — after “cooking vessel,” “container for plants,” “a trap for fish,” and so on. Newer dictionaries often give pot a separate listing when it refers to the drug. For example, in Oxford Canadian (1998), we find: “pot. noun. slang. Marijuana.”
Pot is from Old English where it was spelled pott. By Middle English, we already had today’s spelling. Pot comes from the Vulgar Latin pottus (cooking vessel).
The term pot, as it refers to marijuana, has an uncertain origin but probably is derived from the Mexican Spanish word potiguaya (marijuana leaves). Mexican Spanish has two separate and accepted spellings for marijuana. These are mariguana and marihuana.
Pot was first used as a euphemism for marijuana in the U.S. in 1938, but it is far from being the sole slang expression for this drug. Here are other slang terms for marijuana as listed in American Slang along with their dates of origin: ganja/ganga (1800), dope (1895), Mary Anne (1925), muggles (1926), weed (1929), reefer (1931), tea (1935), splif or spliff (1936), Mary Warner (1938), jive (1938), stick of tea, stick of wood (1938), grass (1938), mizz (1938), Indian Hay (1939), ju-ju (1940), rope (1944), joint (1952), pod (1952), roach (1953), boo (1959), Acupulco Gold (1965), doobie (1967), Mary Jane (1970), hash (1972), puff (1989).
With so many alternatives to choose from, it’s surprising no enterprising journalist has bothered to vary his reports to include at least one of them. But then, perhaps pot is so linked with marijuana in the public’s mind that the other terms are relative unknowns. Except, that is, to users.
Whether or not Trudeau’s idea ever becomes Canadian law probably depends on which party forms the next few governments.