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 Cannabis is not known to have been present in the Americas, before Spanish contact, making an indigenous word an unlikely source.[5]

Other suggestions trace the possible origins of the word to Chinese ma ren hua "hemp seed flower", possibly itself originating as a loan from an earlier semitic root *mrj "hemp". The Semitic root is also found in the Spanish word mejorana and in English marjoram (oregano), which could be related to the word marihuana, which is also known in Mexico as "Chinese oregano".[5]

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][6]

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 "mariguan" (1894),[5] "marihuma" first recorded in 1905, "marihuano" in 1912, and "marahuana" in 1914.[7] 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]

For research and statical data "marijuana" generally refers specifically to the dried leaves and flowering tops or "herbal cannabis".[8][9][10][11] Many legal references prefer the term "cannabis", for instance in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. However, many laws and regulations often use the term "marihuana" or "marijuana", for instance the Controlled Substances Act in the United States and the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations in Canada. Cannabis reform organizations, such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and Marijuana Policy Project, alongside political organizations like Help End Marijuana Prohibition Party of Australia and the Marijuana Party of Canada, 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. ^ a b c Alan Piper, "The Mysterious Origins of the Word 'Marijuana'", Sino-Platonic Papers, 153 (July 2005)
  6. ^ "Marijuana". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, V3.0, 1999.
  7. ^ Dale H. Gieringer (2006), "The Origins of Cannabis Prohibition in California", Contemporary Drug Problems, Federal Legal Publication.
  8. ^ Dr Gary Potter; Mr Martin Bouchard; Mr Tom Decorte (2013). World Wide Weed: Global Trends in Cannabis Cultivation and its Control (revised ed.). Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 17. ISBN 978-1-4094-9438-6. 
  9. ^ Mahmoud A. ElSohly (2007). Marijuana and the Cannabinoids. Springer Science. p. 151. ISBN 978-1-59259-947-9. 
  10. ^ Allan Tasman; Jerald Kay; Jeffrey A. Lieberman; Michael B. First; Michelle Riba (2015). Psychiatry, 2 Volume Set. Wiley. p. 4935. ISBN 978-1-118-75336-1. 
  11. ^ Reprinted from Journal of American Medical Association 201 (August 7, 1967): 368-71 (2012). "DEPENDENCE ON CANNABIS (MARIHUANA)". Retrieved January 30, 2016. 

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