It’s Weed Break Wednesday and we are a ponderin’ … what’s in a name? And, so long as they refer to pot, don’t they all pretty much mean the same thing?
Nope. We’ve recently uncovered a conspiracy theory of sorts. In our review of all things pot in the U.S., we’ve struck a nerve. That is, we’ve heard over and over that the term, marijuana, was selected and used for a specific and not-so-politically correct reason.
The scientific name for marijuana is cannabis but there have always been so many synonyms for marijuana – weed, pot, grass, dope, ganja, hemp, hash, and cannabis may be the most well-known.
To those invested in our industry (or those new to what’s often referred to as the marijuana boom), all names are not created equal.
In our research and exploration of the history of cannabis, we’ve seen very specific uses of terms ranging from ganja to hash, pot to dope, in the media and online. The term used to represent cannabis depends on who is speaking and, more importantly, what their biases are.
Some claim that “cannabis” is the most correct and accurate term. So, when, then, did marijuana come into play?
The most prevalent marijuana argument goes like this. Cannabis, as a descriptive term, seemed too science-y. The federal government really wanted to promote the idea of the substance being foreign. The federal government, also hoping to tie the substance’s use to Mexican immigrant workers, elected to use the Spanish word, “marijuana,” to add an additional element of menace and, as history’s legend tells, to scare middle-class America.
Is there evidence to support the claim of marijuana proponents that the government used the more foreign sounding word to scare people? By examining how the media used the word “marijuana” or “cannabis” during the lead-up to the substance’s criminalization in 1937, we have found evidence of “marijuana” being used sensationally to influence popular opinion.
According to the English Oxford Dictionary (OED), the term, “mariguana” first appeared in 1874, in Hubert Howe Bancroft’s book Wild Tribes. Yes, that’s with a “g,” not an “j.” In fact, the OED shows many spellings of the term that are not so common today: mariguan, mariguana, mara huiwane, marajuana, mariahuana, marihuana, marijuana, and merrywanna.
The OED does not pinpoint exactly when the word originated, but it does identify it as being of Mexican-Spanish origin. The term may have begun as slang before adopted by writers such as Bancroft. Regardless, “marijuana” is a relatively new word in the United States, coming into popular use only in the 20th century.
So, what do you think? What’s in a name for cannabis? What do you call ‘it’? Does the word marijuana carry any negative connotations in your study of it’s U.S. origins? Share with us. We’d love hear your thoughts.