Drinking the Kool-Aid

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Directions for a package of Kool-Aid

"Drinking the Kool-Aid" is an idiom commonly used in the United States that refers to any person or group who goes along with a doomed or dangerous idea because of peer pressure. The phrase often carries a negative connotation when applied to an individual or group. It can also be used ironically or humorously to refer to accepting an idea or changing a preference due to popularity, peer pressure, or persuasion. In recent years it has evolved further to mean extreme dedication to a cause or purpose, so extreme that one would "Drink the Kool-Aid" and die for the cause.

The phrase derives from the November 1978 Jonestown deaths,[1][2][3] in which over 900 members of the Peoples Temple, who were followers of Jim Jones, died, many of whom committed suicide by drinking a mixture of a powdered soft-drink flavoring agent laced with cyanide and prescription drugs Valium, Phenergan, and chloral hydrate, while the rest of the members, including 89 infants and elderly, were killed by forced ingestion of the poison.[4] The actual brand of soft-drink flavoring was a mixture of both Kool-Aid and a competing brand, Flavor Aid.[5][6]


On November 18, 1978, Jones ordered that the members of Representative Leo Ryan's party be killed after several defectors chose to leave with the party. Residents of the commune later committed mass suicide by drinking a flavored beverage laced with potassium cyanide.

Despite its reputation as a mass suicide, the events of November 18, 1978, were a murder-suicide. Those unable to comply, such as infants, and those unwilling to comply, received involuntary injections ahead of the main group. One survivor reported: "That man (Jones) was killing us. It was just senseless waste."[7] Roughly 918 people died.

Descriptions of the event often refer to the beverage not as Kool-Aid but as Flavor Aid,[8] a less-expensive product reportedly found at the site.[9] Kraft Foods, the maker of Kool-Aid, has stated the same.[10][11] Implied by this accounting of events is that the reference to the Kool-Aid brand owes exclusively to its being better-known among Americans. Others are less categorical.[8] Both brands are known to have been among the commune's supplies: Film footage shot inside the compound prior to the events of November shows Jones opening a large chest in which boxes of both Flavor Aid and Kool-Aid are visible.[12] Criminal investigators testifying at the Jonestown inquest spoke of finding packets of "cool aid" (sic), and eyewitnesses to the incident are also recorded as speaking of "cool aid" or "Cool Aid."[13] It is unclear whether they intended to refer to the actual Kool-Aid–brand drink or were using the name in a generic sense that might refer to any powdered flavored beverage.

It is most likely that both were used in the mass murder-suicide.[citation needed] The group had engaged in many "dry runs" using unpoisoned drink.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Higgins, Chris (8 November 2012). "Stop Saying 'Drink the Kool-Aid'". The Atlantic. Retrieved July 22, 2013. 
  2. ^ "'Jonestown': Portrait of a Disturbed Cult Leader". Day to Day. October 20, 2006. Retrieved September 4, 2014. 
  3. ^ Paul McFedries (1998-10-27). "Wordspy article on the expression "Drink the Kool-Aid," October 27, 1998". Logophilia Limited, www.wordspy.com. Retrieved January 29, 2008. 
  4. ^ Hall, John R. (1987). Gone from the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History. Transaction Publishers. p. 282. ISBN 9780887388019. 
  5. ^ "Cult's survivors sought in jungle". The Ledger. Lakeland, Florida. November 21, 1978. Retrieved August 16, 2010. 
  6. ^ Holden, Stephen. "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
  8. ^ a b Eric Zorn (2008-11-18). "Change of Subject, "Have you drunk the 'Kool Aid' Kool Aid". Chicago Tribune, www.chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 2009-08-27. 
  9. ^ Krause, Charles A. (Dec 17, 1978). "Jonestown Is an Eerie Ghost Town Now". Washington Post. Along the muddy path that served as a sidewalk for much of the commune, other reminders of the life and death that were Jonestown lie half buried in the fertile soil. A pair of woman's eyeglasses, a towel, a pair of shorts, packets of unopened Flavor-Aid lie scattered about waiting for the final cleanup that may one day return Jonestown to the tidy, if overcrowded, little community it once was. 
  10. ^ Kihn, Martin (2007-12-19). "Don't Drink the Grape-Flavored Sugar Water.." Fast Company. Archived from the original on 7 April 2005. Retrieved 2009-08-27. 
  11. ^ Al Thomkins (2003-11-13). "Al's Morning Meeting, "Thursday Edition: Clearing Kool-Aid's Name"". The Poynter Institute. Archived from the original on 4 December 2003. Retrieved 2009-08-27. 
  12. ^ Nelson, Stanley (2006). Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (DVD). Hollywood, California: PBS Home Video. 
  13. ^ "Guyana inquest" (PDF). 
  14. ^ Hatfield, Larry D. (8 November 1998). "Utopian nightmare. Jonestown: What did we learn?". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2015-12-16. 

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