In 1561, Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal, came back from Lisbon with a bunch of exotic New World plants, specifically tobacco. This was insanely popular in the royal court and all of France in general, and the country quickly rose to be one of the world's largest consumers of the plant. People were so enamored with tobacco that they named the alkaloid compund nicotine after Nicot (despite André Thevet, a French missionary, claiming that he introduced it first), who enthusiastically propagated its supposed medicinal benefits. -Ine is a traditional suffix for naming chemical compounds, so let's dispense with that. Nicot is a diminutive of the name Nicholas, which comes from Latin Nicolaus. This further derives from Ancient Greek Nikolaos, which can be translated into "victory of the people". The roots here are Nike, meaning "victory" (and often referring to the goddess of victory; assumed PIE origin), and laos, meaning "people" (from PIE lehwos, alson "people".
Adam Aleksic is a 221-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd