- A colorless volatile flammable liquid, C2H5OH, synthesized or obtained by fermentation of sugars and starches and widely used, either pure or denatured, as a solvent and in drugs, cleaning solutions, explosives, and intoxicating beverages. Also called ethanol, ethyl alcohol; Also called grain alcohol.
- Intoxicating liquor containing alcohol.
- Any of a series of hydroxyl compounds, the simplest of which are derived from saturated hydrocarbons, have the general formula CnH2n+1OH, and include ethanol and methanol.
[Medieval Latin, fine metallic powder, especially of antimony, from Arabic al-kuhÌ£l : al-, the + kuhÌ£l, powder of antimony.]
WORD HISTORY The alâ€“ in alcohol may alert some readers to the fact that this is a word of Arabic descent, as is the case with algebra and alkali, al- being the Arabic definite article corresponding to the in English. The origin of â€“cohol is less obvious, however. Its Arabic ancestor was kuhÌ£l, a fine powder most often made from antimony and used by women to darken their eyelids; in fact, kuhÌ£l has given us the word kohl for such a preparation. Arabic chemists came to use al-kuhÌ£l to mean â€œany fine powder produced in a number of ways, including the process of heating a substance to a gaseous state and then recooling it.â€ The English word alcohol, derived through Medieval Latin from Arabic, is first recorded in 1543 in this sense. Arabic chemists also used al-kuhÌ£l to refer to other substances such as essences that were obtained by distillation, a sense first found for English alcohol in 1672. One of these distilled essences, known as â€œalcohol of wine,â€ is the constituent of fermented liquors that causes intoxication. This essence took over the term alcohol for itself, whence it has come to refer to the liquor that contains this essence as well as to a class of chemical compounds such as methanol.