Updated at: 17-07-2023 - By: John Lau

Who else has wondered why alcohol is often referred to as “spirits”?

It’s a question that leads us to an intriguing journey into the history and language of our favorite beverages.

Did you know that the term originates from the Latin word “spiritus,” meaning breath or wind?

In this blog post, we’ll delve deeper into this historical mystery, unearthing how this unique nomenclature came about and what it reveals about our relationship with alcohol since ancient times.

Ready for a fascinating sips- ahem -bits of knowledge? Keep reading!

The Origins of the Word “Spirit”

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The origin of the term “spirit” as it relates to alcohol can be traced back to Latin. The Latin word for spirit is “spiritus”, which translates directly into English as breath or wind, but metaphorically meant life-force or essence.

This connection undoubtedly influenced how the term came to be associated with alcohol. Panayiotis Pappas, a linguistics professor at Simon Fraser University, says that by the 14th century in England, distilled liquids were called spirits because of their volatile nature.

In addition to its abstract connotations with life force and essence, “spirits” also played a role in religious lexicon of ancient societies.

Distilled beverages appeared clearer than beer or wine and were believed to contain a divine element – an association that carried over when this terminology was applied to alcoholic drinks much later on during mankind’s agricultural revolution.

Notably, classics like Aristotle related spiritual possession with intoxication from consumption of high-proof liquor; he referred these liquors as “spirits”.

Diving deeper into etymology reveals more associations between spirits and alcohol. For example, the modern English word ‘alcohol’ potentially descends from Arabic ‘Alghawl’.

In Islam tradition, Alghawl embodies both an evil spirit and destructive intoxicating liquor – resonating again this intertwining theme of spirits within context of potent drinks.

As such historical origins underline definition of “spirits” drawn upon vivid imagery around elusive entities – wind or breath – we cannot see yet can feel their influence on us similarly as effects after consuming strong alcoholic beverages which invoke certain change in mood and behavior.

The Association of Alcohol with Spirits

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Aristotle’s belief in spiritual possession

Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, believed in the concept of spiritual possession. He thought that spirits could enter and control both human beings and objects. This belief may have contributed to the association between alcohol and spirits.

According to Aristotle’s theory, consuming alcohol could potentially result in a person being possessed by a spirit. This connection between alcohol and spiritual possession adds an intriguing layer to understanding why liquor came to be known as “spirits.”.

The biblical references to spirits

In the Bible, there are several references to spirits in relation to alcohol. For example, Proverbs 23:29-35 warns against the dangers of excessive drinking and describes those who indulge as having “woe” and “sorrow.” Additionally, Ephesians 5:18 advises believers not to be drunk with wine but to be filled with the Holy Spirit instead.

These biblical passages highlight the negative consequences of overindulging in alcoholic spirits and emphasize the importance of seeking spiritual fulfillment rather than relying on earthly pleasures.

The concept of spirits in Christianity goes beyond just a physical intoxicant. It also symbolizes a spiritual presence or influence that can either guide individuals towards righteousness or lead them astray.

The biblical references serve as a reminder for alcoholism sufferers that excessive consumption can have detrimental effects not only on their physical well-being but also on their spiritual journey.

The Term “Spirits” for Liquor

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The term “spirits” is commonly used to refer to liquor, but have you ever wondered why? The origins of this term can be traced back to the Latin word “spiritus,” which has various meanings including breath and wind.

It is believed that the association between alcohol and spirits began with Aristotle, who believed in spiritual possession. Additionally, there are biblical references to spirits, further solidifying the connection between alcohol and spirituality.

When it comes to liquor specifically, the name “spirits” may have come about due to its ability to give life or “spirit” to mixed drinks and cocktails. This brings a sense of vitality and energy into play when consuming these alcoholic beverages.

It should be noted that not all alcoholic beverages fall under the category of spirits. Liquors considered spirits are those that have gone through distillation process in order produce alcohol.

This includes a wide range of drinks such as vodka, rum, whiskey, gin, tequila, and more.

In conclusion, while the exact origin of why alcohol is called spirits remains debated among experts, it is clear that there is a longstanding cultural and religious association between alcohol and spirituality.

The use of the term “spirits” for liquor adds an element of mystique and intrigue to our drinking culture today.


In conclusion, the term “spirits” for alcohol has a rich and fascinating history. Whether it originated from Latin or Greek, its association with breath and wind adds a poetic element to the name.

While theories linking it to the Holy Spirit are intriguing, it is clear that “spirits” have been long associated with the world of alcohol, giving life and flavor to our favorite drinks.