Forget the Breathalyzer: police suspecting people of drunkenness should check eyeliner levels! The word alcohol comes from the Latin term alcohol, which meant "powdered antimony sulfide", describing makeup with the composition of Sb2S3 (which is strange, considering modern alcohols contain OH, but it's all about to make more sense). Later, this sense of "cosmetics" began to mean "any pure substance". Our modern definition of alcohol as in "the drink" first emerged in 1753, and since this contained OH, it was extended in a chemical sense later. These definitions eventually went on to eclipse the "makeup" meaning, because the latter had too many synonyms as it was. Anyway, going back to Latin alcohol, it probably comes from Arabic al-kuhul, or "the kohl", kohl being that type of eyeliner the Egyptians famously utilized. This is from the Semitic root khl, which meant something like "paint" and still had vague connections to antimony.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.