Posted by: Jack Henry | September 27, 2022

Editor’s Corner: Virgin

Dear Editrix,

Here’s a word that bothers me: virgin. Why do we use that term, such as virgin drinks, virgin ground, etc.?



Dear Why,

My first inclination is to refer to Madonna, who sums it up as “touched for the very first time.” That would apply to something like “virgin ground” or the original meaning of the word. As far as alcohol, though, the term “virgin drink” has a history, dating back to Prohibition. From The Zero Proof:

According to many sources, the name dates back to the prohibition era.

Around this time, the Bloody Mary, which combines vodka with tomato juice, became a popular cocktail. During Prohibition, though, folks could no longer go out and order a Bloody Mary to drink. Instead, they would ask for a Virgin Mary, which was just plain old tomato juice.

Referring to the drink as a Virgin Mary was a tongue-in-cheek way of clarifying that the customer wasn’t ordering alcohol. It also had obvious goody two shoes, church-related overtones that made folks smile (especially when they would go on to add their own vodka later from a personal pocket or hip flask).

You may also hear people refer to non-alcoholic drinks as “zero proof” drinks, “Temperance” drinks, or “mocktails” (a portmanteau of “mock cocktails”). These terms are also from the early 1920s.

I read several articles that chastise the term “mocktail” for the following reasons (this from the Atlantic Eater):

The term mocktail…can summon feelings of being patronized or infantilized; as if the person ordering is already being judged for choosing not to drink alcohol. Is the person skipping alcohol because of calories? A pregnancy? They need to drive home? Perhaps they have a problem with alcohol or addiction. A person should be able to order non-alcoholic drinks without feeling ashamed.

Who would think non-alcoholic drinks would be fraught with so much tension? Whatever you choose to call it, I hope it tastes good!

kara church | technical editor, advisory | technical publications

pronouns: she/her | call via teams |

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