Monday, December 15, 2014

The Dope on Dope

Doping has become a controversial topic in both professional and amateur sports. Cyclist Lance Armstrong, sprinter Ben Johnson, third baseman Alex Rodriguez, batting champ Barry Bonds, tennis whiz Andre Agassi, tiddlywinks ace Ladislav Paffufnikl—these are just a few of the myriad athletes who have taken various kinds of drugs that allegedly enhance their performance.

Admittedly, they may be dopes for doing so, but why are the drugs they take known as “dope”?

Most etymologists trace the word to the Dutch doop, “thick dipping sauce or gravy,” which stems from doopen (“to dip”). It entered English as dope around 1800.

By 1851 it meant a “stupid person. This meaning probably relates to the notion of “thick-headedness,” analogous to the thickness of the dipping gravy.

By 1889, dope was extended to mean a “thick, oozy opium concoction” given to racehorses to enhance their speed on the track. Thereafter the word was applied to any illicit narcotics or addictive drug.

As a word for “inside information,” this came around 1900, probably based on racing tips about which horses were “doped” to run faster.

A recent New York Times article cites a different etymology. It says the word derives from dop, a South African stimulant drink. In South Africa dop is also a word for an imprecise measure of any alcoholic drink, similar to a tot, a nip, a shot, or a slug. This meaning may have come from the same word, dop, which is a “copper cup in which diamonds are cut.”

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is proud to say he takes no artificial stimulants to enhance his poetic prowess, which comes perfectly naturally to him, but he is not averse to a tot, a nip, a shot, or a slug.

            Some athletes who took methamphetamine
            Thought that doping would be sure to get ‘em in
                       The hallowed Hall of Fame.
                       But when the time came,
           The powers that be wouldn’t let ‘em in.

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