For centuries, native Americans had been chewing on coca leaves to boost their energy. When European scientists found out that extracting coca to form a fine white powder had certain advantageous effects, they jumped all over it. Specifically Albert Neiman, the German chemist who coined the word cocaine in 1856 (which was meant to have three syllables, but everybody kept pronouncing only two). This is obviously a formation from the word for the coca leaf and the chemical suffix -ine. Coca comes from a Quechua (so from the area of Peru) word sounding like cuca or kuka with the same meaning, and the -ine suffix has been used for materials since the times of the Proto-Indo-European language. After a slump in the 1960s, literary usage of the word cocaine peaked in 1994 and is currently on the decline again.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a rising junior 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.