Marijuana (word)

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"Marijuana" or "marihuana", etc., is a name for the cannabis plant and a drug preparation made from it. [1] The form "marihuana" is first attested in Mexican Spanish; it then spread to other varieties of Spanish and to English, French, and other languages.[1][2]


The term, originally spelled variously as "marihuana", "mariguana", etc., originated in Mexican Spanish.[2] The ultimate derivation is unknown. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it may come from the Nahuatl mallihuan, meaning "prisoner".[1] Author Martin Booth notes that this etymology was popularized by Harry J. Anslinger in the 1930s, during his campaigns against the drug.[3] However, linguist Jason D. Haugen finds no semantic basis for a connection to "mallihuan", suggesting that the phonetic similarity may be "a case of accidental homophony".[4]:94

Additionally, traditional association with the personal name María Juana ("Mary Jane") is probably a folk etymology. The original Mexican Spanish used forms with the letter 'h' (marihuana). Forms using the letter 'j' (marijuana) seem to be an innovation of English, though they later appeared in French and in Spanish, probably due to English influence.[1][5]

English use[edit]

The word entered English usage in the late 19th century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first known appearance of a form of the word in English is in Hubert Howe Bancroft's 1873 The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America.[1] Other early variants include "marihuma" first recorded in 1905, "marihuano" in 1912, and "marahuana" in 1914.[6] Through the early 20th century, however, both the drug and the plant were more commonly known as "cannabis" or "hemp". "Marihuana"'s currency in American English increased dramatically in the 1930s, when it was preferred as an exotic-sounding alternative name during the debates of the drug's use.[1] It has been suggested that it was promoted by opponents of the drug, who wanted to stigmatize it with a "foreign-sounding name".[2]

Some references prefer the term "cannabis", for instance in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Laws in the United States, such as the Controlled Substances Act, often use the term "marihuana" or "marijuana," and many cannabis reform organizations in the U.S., such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the Marijuana Policy Project, also use this term.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Marijuana". Oxford English Dictionary. June 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c American Heritage Dictionaries (2007). Spanish Word Histories and Mysteries: English Words That Come From Spanish. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 142–143. ISBN 0-618-91054-9. 
  3. ^ Booth, Martin (2005). Cannabis: A History. Picador. pp. 179–180. 
  4. ^ Haugen, Jason D. "Borrowed Borrowings: Nahuatl Loan Words in English" (PDF). Lexis: E-Journal in English Lexicology 3: 63–106. ISSN 1951-6215. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Marijuana". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, V3.0, 1999.
  6. ^ Dale H. Gieringer (2006), "The Origins of Cannabis Prohibition in California", Contemporary Drug Problems, Federal Legal Publication.

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