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#1
Old 10-27-2014, 05:51 PM
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What is the origin of "A shot of whiskey"?

I was reading a thread on another site about this and thought..... Straight Dope is the place to ask about this. Thanks in advance for any input.
#2
Old 10-27-2014, 06:19 PM
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I give up. What's the context for this? Isn't a shot of whiskey a shot of whiskey? Is it a sex act? A sports term? An early Johnny Cash song? Give us some help here.
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Old 10-27-2014, 06:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
I give up. What's the context for this? Isn't a shot of whiskey a shot of whiskey? Is it a sex act? A sports term? An early Johnny Cash song? Give us some help here.
I don't understand your confusion. I assume the OP is asking why a small glass of whiskey (or other spirits) is called a "shot" and not a small glass.
#4
Old 10-27-2014, 06:33 PM
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In a primitive bar setting, you can order beer or whiskey. In the latter case, you can have the whole bottle, or one "shot" - shotglass full - at a time.

"Beer and a shot" - for manly men. Nothing more complicated.

ETA: Etymology? A "shot" is a small amount of something. A "shot glass" is is a small glass that holds a small amount.

Last edited by Amateur Barbarian; 10-27-2014 at 06:34 PM.
#5
Old 10-27-2014, 06:41 PM
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Apparently the term "shot glass" didn't become current until the 1940s. The Wiki article gives a variety of unlikely origins for the term. Before the 1940s a glass for measuring liquor was called a jigger (as it still sometimes is).
#6
Old 10-27-2014, 06:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Amateur Barbarian View Post
In a primitive bar setting, you can order beer or whiskey. In the latter case, you can have the whole bottle, or one "shot" - shotglass full - at a time.

"Beer and a shot" - for manly men. Nothing more complicated.

ETA: Etymology? A "shot" is a small amount of something. A "shot glass" is is a small glass that holds a small amount.
Well, a "shot," if it does mean a small amount of something, seems to either come from the drink sense or the hypodermic needle sense, so your explanation doesn't really work. I'm not aware of "shot" simply meaning "a small amount" in any other context.

Here's etymonline.com's take on it.
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Old 10-27-2014, 06:51 PM
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The OED dates it from 1928, but it looks like it's derived from an old term (from 1418) which means a bar tab. There's an obsolete term from the 17th century that meant drinks in general, which probably came from the phrase "to stand shot," meaning, "to pay your tab."

It can be further traced to Old English scéotan, meaning "to pay."

So when it was used to mean "a drink," it came from the "bar tab." The first cite (from P.G. Wodehouse) is "I'll take a shot in a glass," indicating he'll take payment in liquid.
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#8
Old 10-27-2014, 06:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
I don't understand your confusion. I assume the OP is asking why a small glass of whiskey (or other spirits) is called a "shot" and not a small glass.
Exactly. On the other site it was claimed that the term "A shot of whiskey" originated in the old west. The claim was, a glass of whiskey cost 12 cents and so did a .45 cartridge and if a patron was short on cash a cartridge would be accepted as the price of a drink, hence, a shot of whiskey.

I tend to disbelieve this for some reason and figured the right answer would be found here. Thanks.
#9
Old 10-27-2014, 07:03 PM
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Three fingers over one cylindrical ice "cube" and keep the tiny sissy glass. Problem solved.
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Old 10-27-2014, 07:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
Apparently the term "shot glass" didn't become current until the 1940s. The Wiki article gives a variety of unlikely origins for the term. Before the 1940s a glass for measuring liquor was called a jigger (as it still sometimes is).
Typically I think, a shot glass holds 1.5 oz. whereas a jigger is only one ounce. Some drink recipes call for "a shot of X and a jigger of Y", and a lot of shot glasses have a mark at the 1 oz. level; filled to the top is 1.5 oz.
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Old 10-27-2014, 07:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Harvey Ferguson View Post
The claim was, a glass of whiskey cost 12 cents and so did a .45 cartridge and if a patron was short on cash a cartridge would be accepted as the price of a drink, hence, a shot of whiskey.
Sounds like another of those contrived tales. Among other objections, a .45 cartridge is not referred to as a "shot".
#12
Old 10-27-2014, 07:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
I don't understand your confusion. I assume the OP is asking why a small glass of whiskey (or other spirits) is called a "shot" and not a small glass.
I'd say Exapno's confusion is because he/she thought the question was specifically about the origin of the phrase "shot of whiskey" (and was hence confused as to what was so special about that particular phrase), not the origin of the term "shot".
#13
Old 10-27-2014, 07:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Xema View Post
Sounds like another of those contrived tales. Among other objections, a .45 cartridge is not referred to as a "shot".
Exactly why I don't believe the story.
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Old 10-27-2014, 08:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
I don't understand your confusion. I assume the OP is asking why a small glass of whiskey (or other spirits) is called a "shot" and not a small glass.
You're right about that but I didn't find it all obvious. I'm on a permanent crusade to get posters to provide context for questions, especially about words or phrases. Who knows what the kids are saying these days?

A ngram for "a shot of whiskey" shows that it's a much more recent term than most people would suppose.
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Old 10-27-2014, 08:07 PM
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Originally Posted by SeldomSeen View Post
Typically I think, a shot glass holds 1.5 oz. whereas a jigger is only one ounce. Some drink recipes call for "a shot of X and a jigger of Y", and a lot of shot glasses have a mark at the 1 oz. level; filled to the top is 1.5 oz.
Nope. A jigger is 1.5 oz.
#16
Old 10-27-2014, 08:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
You're right about that but I didn't find it all obvious. I'm on a permanent crusade to get posters to provide context for questions, especially about words or phrases. Who knows what the kids are saying these days?

A ngram for "a shot of whiskey" shows that it's a much more recent term than most people would suppose.
Sorry, I should have said: "What is the origin of the term a shot of whiskey".

For the record, I haven't been a kid for a good many years.
#17
Old 10-27-2014, 08:48 PM
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"Old English scot, sceot "a shot, a shooting, an act of shooting; that which is discharged in shooting, what is shot forth; darting, rapid motion," from the previously cited Online Etymology Dictionary; bolding added.

Perhaps the act of quickly tossing back that size drink led to calling it a shot? The same action of quickly darting forth makes sense for hypodermic shot as well.
#18
Old 10-27-2014, 10:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Harvey Ferguson View Post
Sorry, I should have said: "What is the origin of the term a shot of whiskey".

For the record, I haven't been a kid for a good many years.
No problem. You inadvertently stepped on my pet peeve and got in the way of my ouch.
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Old 10-27-2014, 11:58 PM
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Originally Posted by silenus View Post
Nope. A jigger is 1.5 oz.
Right you are, my mistake. A shot & a jigger are the same, 1.5 oz. The 1 oz. dose apparently is called a "short shot" or "pony shot".
#20
Old 10-28-2014, 03:52 AM
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Originally Posted by MsKaren View Post
"Old English scot, sceot "a shot, a shooting, an act of shooting; that which is discharged in shooting, what is shot forth; darting, rapid motion," from the previously cited Online Etymology Dictionary; bolding added.

Perhaps the act of quickly tossing back that size drink led to calling it a shot? The same action of quickly darting forth makes sense for hypodermic shot as well.
That source suggests that there was an intermediate step: throwing down the TAB (bill, cheque) was likened to shooting something, and it was the tab that later was associated with the thing being paid for -- a small amount of liquor.
#21
Old 10-28-2014, 04:00 AM
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Originally Posted by JKellyMap View Post
....TAB (bill, cheque)...
I meant "check" -- American for "bill." ("Cheque" is, of course, British for "check.")

And I should have clarified that the Online Etymology Dictionary is a reputable source. They "suggested" this historical development based on written evidence, not just some hunch.
#22
Old 10-28-2014, 04:09 AM
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Originally Posted by JKellyMap View Post
That source suggests that there was an intermediate step: throwing down the TAB (bill, cheque) was likened to shooting something, and it was the tab that later was associated with the thing being paid for -- a small amount of liquor.
But I'm not sure when the practice of giving bar customers a check for payment first arose. Remember, "shot" for a measure of spirits arose in the nineteenth century, at a time when many bar customers couldn't read. Customer's tallies were kept with chalk marks on a board; I don't think anything was handed to the customer until (a) literacy was more widespread, and (b) bars generally used cash registered which generated a check. I think in the past you just asked the barman what you owed, he looked at the chalkboard and told you, and you paid it.
#23
Old 10-28-2014, 05:23 AM
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I'll give it a shot. It's the volume of drink you could consume in one shot.







#24
Old 10-28-2014, 05:47 AM
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Originally Posted by UDS View Post
But I'm not sure when the practice of giving bar customers a check for payment first arose. Remember, "shot" for a measure of spirits arose in the nineteenth century, at a time when many bar customers couldn't read. Customer's tallies were kept with chalk marks on a board; I don't think anything was handed to the customer until (a) literacy was more widespread, and (b) bars generally used cash registered which generated a check. I think in the past you just asked the barman what you owed, he looked at the chalkboard and told you, and you paid it.
Good point. Maybe by "tab" the OED* meant just what you said: a mark on a chalkboard. The act of doing that is a little more "shooting"-like than vigorously placing a piece of paper on a surface, anyway.

*No, not that OED.
#25
Old 10-28-2014, 05:52 AM
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As a slight aside, in Scotland whisky used to be served in standard measures of one-fifth of a gill (one fluid ounce) called a dram or a large dram (a quarter-gill).

Sadly since we went metric the normal measure is 25ml, which is smaller than the 28.4ml equivalent of the fifth of a gill.

There is a move to secure a change in the weights and measures law so that the dram can be brought back as the standard legal serving exclusively for Scotch.

Just so you know, DON'T try to order a shot of whisky in Scotland - order a dram.
#26
Old 10-28-2014, 07:59 AM
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Irrelevant but interesting aside.

The Schott company in Germany is a major manufacturer of specialty glasses. Although there are other companies (Ohara in Japan, Corming in the US), Schott is probably the most significant manufacturer of high-quality, well-characterized optical glass. If you buy from them, you can be assured of knowing the refractive index, Verdet constant, expansion coefficient, and other properties of your glass to a high and reproducible degree. For many years, Optical Engineers would be certain to have the multi-leaved folder of Schott Glass data, as well as little 3" X 5" plastic-bound pocket folders of Schott Glasses.


For optics guys, then, "Schott glass" had a very different meaning.

Schott ultimately realized this, and started making, as promotions, little "shot glasses" with the Schott logo imprinted on the side. True "Schott Glasses". I looked on the 'net, but couldn't find any of these on a quick search.

I did find, however, that through their crystal glass divisions, Schott is apparently making luxury shot glasses. True Schott glasses without the implied joke

http://pcfallon.com/p-8938-schot...-set-of-6.aspx
http://crystal-glassware.com/related...schott-zwiesel
#27
Old 10-28-2014, 08:21 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Harvey Ferguson View Post
For the record, I haven't been a kid for a good many years.
That's all well and good, but you'll still need ID if you want a shot.
#28
Old 10-28-2014, 09:17 AM
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I'll maintain that "shot" has a long history as a middling-small amount of liquid dispensed with some vigor - from variations on "shot his wad" to "give that hinge a shot of oil" to "gimme a shot." I can't find any convincing evidence that it originated with or is specific to a small glass of liquor, and given the way a shot is poured by most bartenders, it fits right into the concept. I'd wager that it comes from artillery/firearm "shot" for just that same reason.
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Old 10-28-2014, 02:06 PM
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Originally Posted by pulykamell View Post
Well, a "shot," if it does mean a small amount of something, seems to either come from the drink sense or the hypodermic needle sense, so your explanation doesn't really work. I'm not aware of "shot" simply meaning "a small amount" in any other context.
Is shot as in a go of related? "Give me a shot on your bicycle."
#30
Old 10-28-2014, 09:16 PM
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"Shot" does have an archaic sense of "share", according to the OED. Initially it referred to the share somebody was expected to contribute to some common project - what the individual would bring to the party, as it were - and it commonly referred to food or drink someone contributed to a banquet or similar. But it's easy to see how the meaning could transition from the share of drink you bring to the party to the share of drink you expect to be given at the party, and from there to a standard share of drink.
#31
Old 10-28-2014, 10:02 PM
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Over the years, I have found Michael Quinion's World Wide Words site to be a good resource for this type of question.

Here's Quinion's take on shot.

Among other things, he notes that:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Quinion
The whiskey shot actually derives from an ancient Scandinavian word that became the Old English scéotan, to pay or contribute. Its more direct descendent is scot (which, of course, has nothing to do with the Scots) and which we still have in the phrase scot free, to get away from a situation without suffering punishment or injury; the original sense was “not required to pay scot”.

Last edited by KarlGauss; 10-28-2014 at 10:03 PM.
#32
Old 10-29-2014, 04:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
A ngram for "a shot of whiskey" shows that it's a much more recent term than most people would suppose.
A shot of whisky, shows a rather different pattern. At least some of what your ngram is showing seems to be changing views about the proper spelling of "whisky", or the popularity of Scotch versus Irish.

Last edited by njtt; 10-29-2014 at 04:46 AM.
#33
Old 10-29-2014, 05:14 AM
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Originally Posted by njtt View Post
. . . At least some of what your ngram is showing seems to be changing views about the proper spelling of "whisky", or the popularity of Scotch versus Irish.
"Shot" in the context of spirits is a predominantly American usage, isn't it? And I think whiskey is usually spelt with the 'e' in the US, unless the reference is explicitly to Scotch whisky. So "whiskey" in the US isn't just Irish whiskey; it's generic whiskey, or any particular whiskey that isn't scotch.
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