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Note The Etymology of Moxie X resent American dictionaries that list die noun moxie define it as slang meaning 'vigor, verve, pep' with some further developed senses such as "strength, aggressiveness, nerve, skill, know-how."1 All these are known to have come from the name of a carbonated soft drink, "Moxie," registered in 1924, and again with a design in 1933, spread commercially in the Boston area by a vigorous advertising campaign .2 Moxie was claimed to give the drinker these qualities of vigor, nerve, and pep; and when, as the high point of the campaign, baseball player Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox was persuaded to endorse it loudly, moxie quickly became a synonym for the claimed human qualities themselves and was spread all over the country. But Moxie had had a history before that: it began as the name of a "nerve medicine," a proprietary concocted by Dr. Augustin Thompson of Union, Maine in 1876, which was sold in 26-ounce bottles labeled as follows: Contains not a drop of Medicine, Poison, Stimulant or Alcohol . But is a simple sugarcane-like plant grown near the Equator and farther south, was lately accidentally discovered by Lieut. Moxie and has proved itself to be the only harmless nerve food known that can recover brain and nervous exhaustion ; loss of manhood, imbecility and helplessness. It has recovered paralysis, softening of the brain, locomotor ataxia, and insanity when caused by nervous exhaustion. It gives a durable solid strength, and makes you eat voraciously; takes away the tired, sleepy, lifeless feeling like magic, removes fatigue from mental and physical overwork at once, will not interfere with action of vegetable medicines.3 Thus Moxie was at first one of the many medicinal preparations for which extravagant curative claims were made. The National 1 See the entries in The Century Dictionary, vol. 12 (Funk and Wagnalls 1913), W2 (1934), and others now current 2 Frank N. Potter, "Moxie Memorabilia," Yankee Magazine (June, 1979), 13439 . 5 Potter, 134. Note209 Food and Drug Act of 1906 put an end to that, but the name was not forgotten and in 1924 was registered for a new carbonated drink. Though this could not be legally claimed to be medicinal or curative, it nevertheless promised to give the drinker strength and similar desirable qualities. The line of descent from the original "Moxie" was not wholly broken, since the new product had mildly tonic qualities, and as one later commentator (a Yankee resettled in Wisconsin) put it: As a boy, I might crave a bottle of 'tonic', not a drugstore remedy but something more commonly referred to as soda pop. In fact, a medicine-y tasting brand—Moxie—was a (peculiar) favorite of some kids.4 As another has put it, "Moxie is an acquired taste."5 Note also that "tonic" is still the long-established term in the Boston area for any kind of carbonated drink.6 Present-day common soda drinks often had similar beginnings, their names usually reflecting the vegetable substance that gives them their flavor, stimulus, and strengthening effect: the kola nut, the coca leaf, sarsaparilla, sassafras, the roots in root beer—all touted to give the drinker "pep." "Dr Pepper" implies that it's just what the Doctor ordered. These soda drinks are "tonic." There is an echo of the old nostrums: they're "good for what ails you." Ultimately they are in the tradition of the 17th-century discovery of New World medicines, most famous of which was the Peruvian bark, cinchona, and its derivative quinine, the great anti-febrile specific for malaria. Malaria had been a world scourge before the discovery. The belief hovers today that in remote parts of the world there are other plants with curative properties known only to the native populations. As it happens, in Dr. Thompson's state of Maine there was a common wild plant called moxie-berry, in two closely related species: Gaultheria hispidula, with white berries, and G. procumbens with red berries, both growing low to the ground and having leaves similar to ivy. The settlers utilized them, eating the berries and making infu4 Badger Herald, Madison, WI (21 June 1976), 2/5. 5...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 208-211
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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