Ultimately from an Arabic term which first entered European alchemical jargon, and then entered general use. It reached English in the 1500s via Old Spanish and/or Old Frenchalcohol (modern French alcool).
Since at least the 1600s, some authorities have suggested اَلْكُحْل(al-kuḥl, “kohl”) as the Arabic etymon; this suggestion is found for example in Webster's Third New International Dictionary.
Other authorities, including Rachel Hajar, suggest that the ultimate etymon was the classical Arabic term اَلْغَوْل(al-ḡawl) or غَوْل(ḡawl, “bad effect, evil result of headache”) (as used in Qur’an verse 37:47 (Arabic), which refers to drink in which there is no "ghawl").
Various old etymological theories and notes.
Bartholomew Traheron in his 1543 translation of John of Vigo introduces the word as a term used by "barbarous" (Moorish) authors for "fine powder": the barbarous auctours use alcohol, or (as I fynde it sometymes wryten) alcofoll, for moost fine poudre.
William Johnson in his 1657 Lexicon Chymicum glosses the word as antimonium sive stibium. By extension, the word came to refer to any fluid obtained by distillation, including "alcohol of wine", the distilled essence of wine.
Libavius in Alchymia (1594) has vini alcohol vel vinum alcalisatum.
Johnson (1657) glosses alcohol vini as quando omnis superfluitas vini a vino separatur, ita ut accensum ardeat donec totum consumatur, nihilque fæcum aut phlegmatis in fundo remaneat.
The word's meaning became restricted to "spirit of wine" (ethanol) in the 18th century, then was extended to the entire family of substances which are now called "alcohol" in modern chemistry after 1850.
Risk is everywhere. From tabloid headlines insisting that coffee causes cancer (yesterday, of course, it cured it) to stern government warnings about alcohol and driving, the world is teeming with goblins.
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