Dicky Turner and the Tee-Totals

Dicky Turner was an illiterate fish hawker from Lancashire and one of us. I stopped using the word alcoholic awhile back, not because I know what I’m doing but because it feels self-punishing. Do not mistake this for denial, but rather a search for a more proactive label.

Could it be Teetotal*?

The first time I heard this word was in my parents’ kitchen one Christmas Eve many years ago when an elderly neighbor came by and declined the glass of cheer my mother offered. “Oh no thanks. I’m a teetotaler,” Mrs. Wimbly screeched, her characteristic gameshow host smile stretched across her bony face. She wore the smile in striking contrast to her personality, which, if I had to personify it, might be one of the apple trees from The Wizard of Oz. She was a tough one to love, and she didn’t give a flying you-know-what. Mrs. Wimbly was unapologetically who she was, and only many years later do I appreciate this and wish I could invite her over for a cup of tea and a thousand Lucky Strikes, as she was also a smoking fiend, another possible tip off that she too may have been one of us.

A more recent use of the word Teetotaler came in a comment by a lovely reader I’d always felt must have stumbled across my blog accidentally and then was too polite to leave. Though it turns out she too does not drink for her own personal reasons. I do tend to think of teetotals as people who develop an early preference not to drink, rather than those of us who tried it – and how – for many years before being more or less forced to let it go. And by let it go, I mean having it pried from our stubborn, palsied hands.

And that may be why I like the word Teetotal so much. It implies the plucky, can-do attitude of someone who frankly doesn’t care what everybody else is doing. Alcohol isn’t for everyone, and it’s certainly not for me.

The Drunkards Progress, by Nathaniel Currier, Wikipedia Commons

The origin of the word brings us to plucky Dicky Turner, who was part of the Seven Men of Preston, early movers and shakers of the temperance movement. By 1833, temperance societies were cropping up everywhere, and at one meeting fish hawker Dicky uttered in response to moderation “nothing but the tee-total would do”. Or else he said in strong accent “I’ll be reet down out-and-out t-t-total for ever and ever”. Which, I tend to bet it’s the second, or maybe hope is a better word.

Reading a little about the history of the teetotal movement reminds me of the excitement I feel in the sober blogs. This was all happening close to two centuries ago, and more than a century before AA was founded, and these people were fired up about not drinking and eager to find others to share in the joy of their newfound lives.

The most recent time I heard the word Teetotaler was in my parent’s kitchen again. Mrs. Wimbly is long gone, god rest her surly soul, so this time it was a family friend asking if I was “another one of those teetotalers”. Out of 10 adults gathering, 3 of us were teetotalers. This is remarkable and, I realize, possibly temporary, as not everyone sticks to the movement long term.

“Yep, I sure am,” I said proudly flashing my own gameshow host smile and doing my best not to throw in jazz hands.

“So what’s that all about?” my friend asked.

“Hangovers, mostly.” Every adult understands Hangovers. They are hard to argue with.

“It just wasn’t good for me. I’m much happier without,” I added.

This led to a branch-off discussion about how sensitive this person is to whiskey in particular, at which point she excused herself to grab a beer. Not everyone wants to be a Teetotal. It’s an exclusive club, and maybe we drink tea or sparkling water or nothing at all, but a great number of us are full of good cheer and I am one proud member.

* please note teetotal, teetotaler and tee-total are used interchangeably in this post but all mean the same thing, much like alky, alchy, and drunk. 

42 thoughts on “Dicky Turner and the Tee-Totals

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  1. 1. Teetotalers – now that’s a term I haven’t heard since elementary-school history class. It kind of sounds bad-ass. If my fantasy football team continues to tank, I will use it as my team name next season. Seriously.

    2. Can one be a Teetotaler if one drinks only at work and really doesn’t crave a second drink?

    3. I’ve never had a hangover. I feel crappy some mornings, like I’ve been prepped with a meat mallet and left for the cows to graze on. Is that anything like it?

    *You really have a way with words. It’s a unique voice. So glad our paths crossed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Drinking at work is usually frowned upon! Seriously, you sound like a naturally temperate drinker, what some of us affectionately call a “normie” and tried very hard to be ourselves. And yes, that does sound like a hangover. They are not recommended. Finally, thanks and likewise!


  2. Thanks for a post that caused me to reflect quite a bit as well. I find I tend to use the word “alcoholic” a good bit less than in the past. I opt more for the notion of recovery because I view addiction to food, drugs, alcohol all the same thing. The only time in recent history when the refusal of the offer for alcohol was at all awkward or needed more than a simple “no thanks” was when I was in a country where I did not speak the language well, was in one of those toasting situations – but I figured it out none the less and survived. I am not certain if it is because of my age (early 60s) or whatever, but the decline of alcohol ceased to be an issue.

    There is one context where I volunteer my alcohol consumption unasked. I work with college students a lot, and a good bit on those that have struggled with addiction or whatever. There is most often I great deal of embarrassment on their part about a low GPA, spotty history in general. I find that it is very helpful to put them at ease to note that in my mid-30s when I went back to college, I went with an 0.7 GPA from my earlier attempts and ultimately ended up with a PhD and a 4.0. This provides me the opportunity to say that redemption is possible for all, and that I also quit drinking and drugging. That might lead to other discussions about their own issues, or it might not. But the statement provides the opportunity.

    At the same time, I am really struck by films such as The Anonymous People on the need to be more visible in my recovery label.

    Thanks for making me think on this

    Liked by 3 people

    1. struck by your comment about age and drinking. I do find that many of my friends just have automatically lowered their alcohol consumption by a lot as they grew older. It doesn’t sit well with them, causes heartburn, easier hangovers, allergic reactions (and not the kind we have)…it’s an interesting phenomenon. And it certainly does make saying no a lot less dramatic when everyone else is too.
      i speak less of alcoholism than recovery myself…there are a lot of alcoholics, not as many in recovery, and that’s what is important.


    1. That’s funny! I guess it’s a more comfortable word for an older generation to use, as teetotal implies choice and possibly willpower? Maybe one day you’ll have the chance to talk about it more with your father if it presents or even appeals to you.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Jazz hands. Oh man, that’s awesome. Teetotaler to me always felt like it had religious attachment. Not sure why.

    Laughed out loud about scotch intolerant getting a beer, and the too polite to leave reader .

    I rarely identify out-loud as an alcoholic, though in my mind I do. I usually say that I am sober. (Half full vs half empty?) Or that I was addicted to alcohol.

    I heard somewhere that nearly 30% of people (in the US?) are non-drinkers. For any variety of reasons. I can’t substantiate, but it does seem to fit your story and my own observations.

    Entertaining and informative, one of your best!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sober is a good word. Serious (sober) and strong but not flashy either. Teetotaler has its roots in the temperance movement, which I believe did originate in churches. That’s interesting about the 30%. When I consider that several other family members weren’t drinking that day because it didn’t even occur to them, well I guess I can believe it. We’re in good company.


  4. Love this post Kristen! Read the link detailing the British Temperance Society and in Preston they had 1 pub for every 37 houses in the town. Jeez no wonder we have a problem!! Not a fan of the -ic word either, like alcohol free myself 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This post was quite informative, as I had no idea about the origins of the word teetotaler, and, if asked, I would have guessed it had a negative connotation to it (like a dry drunk). Now I feel renewed… a new label to affix to myself! I love being part of this club!

    But now my mind is working, I am going to continue to ponder this… can we come up with an even better word? I’m chewing on this one a while. I’m feeling like the name Dicky Turner is so catchy, that it might somehow be morphed into a term…

    I’ll work on it and get back to my fellow teetotalers 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      1. dicky turned is rife with possibilities, however not sure they would have anything to do with alcohol, or lack thereof 😉


  6. when I grow up I want to be Mrs Wimbly. love your writing so much.

    had never heard this story of the origin of the word teetotal and I just adore it. how appropriate to take a stammered phrase – something seen as a disadvantage, to be ashamed of – and turn it into a rally call!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mrs. Wimbly (not her real name, don’t want to get sued by her estate) was underappreciated in her time. I still recall the sight of her hunched over in the garden, tending to flowers and plants what seemed all day long, a cigarette dangling from her mouth. She had a crabapple tree in her yard, something we considered quite fitting given her disposition. In retrospect, she was pretty wonderful.


  7. Once again you are triumphant in your writing, Kristen. Short, but packed full of goodness. I am not sure what I call myself these days. I don’t trumpet the word alcoholic – in fact, outside of recovery circles, I rarely use the word about myself. Not out of shame, but I just don’t feel it’s necessary. I rarely go out to places where I am asked about having a drink, so it just doesn’t come up. And frankly, to those people’s homes who we go out to, they already know my story, so I am rather insulated, if you will 🙂

    To others, perhaps “non-drinker” might be good enough. I don’t know. Most folks don’t care. Some raise an eyebrow. Some want to know more. I don’t think I have run into the latter, but many of the former.

    Well presented and I loved how you brought us through this little bit of history in the way that only you know how to. With style.


    Liked by 2 people

  8. “doing my best not to throw in jazz hands”….
    omg, laughing so hard!

    I like teetotaler, and have used it before in a sort of off-hand, sarcastic way (my way)…
    i like the old-fashionedness of it, the way it sounds and, in my case, the boring truth that, besides water, tea is about the total of what i drink (see what i did there?!)

    anyway…great post. enjoyed it.
    once and alike, always a totaler….
    whatever it’s called, i’m glad i’m one!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This made me laugh so much – I am a fully paid up member of the teetotal club…love the old fashioned ring about it.
    You got me wanting to do the jazz hands at the very next opportunity I get!!! So funny, love it!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Teetotaler is a very strange word and one that has roots (as many words do) in the mis-comprehension of a statement, many moons ago.
    It’s funny to think that one feels the need to be put in a ‘Drinker’ or ‘Non-Drinker (Teetotaler)’ category. That’s a bit like ‘Axe Murderer’ or ‘ Non-Axe Murderer’.
    Maybe ‘Credit Card Holder’ or ‘Non- Credit Card Holder’.
    ‘Brocholli’ or ‘Non-Brocholli’.
    I like your approach to defining yourself on today’s Kristen, and that is; you are just you.

    Maybe the original ‘Teetotaler’ was a toad collector with an unfortunate stutter and by attempting to define his/her status, was mis-understood?
    Just on the Dicky Turner front. I actually knew a Dick Turner and he was a local identity in the sporting world – He was plump and short, the typical English cartoon character. But a really good man.B

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now I want to collect toads or toad collectors. Did Dick Turner have rosy red cheeks and an infectious smile? Don’t tell me if he didn’t…I’d like to picture him this way. Thanks for the fun comment B!


  11. this was awesome – have so many thoughts running through my head but will only share a few – I mean – to have good manners…’but I love word dissections like this – and enjoyed learning – and I love the personal twist you give us – but seriously – the counselor side of me gives you three cheers for this “Do not mistake this for denial, but rather a search for a more proactive label…”
    and I am not sure of all the ins and outs with this – but I do know this is why rape victims do not like to say they are a survivor – they sometimes say thriver- and well, you touched upon something that I really believe in – because words and labels have so much power – and I guess there is that balance between owning it and coming to grips with reality and fessing up – but then what? Then comes forth and change and a new person fresh with new ways – always to regard the things of of yesterday and to have reverence for weak areas and things that choke – but to move forward with empowerment and with labels that match the new person someone becomes.

    and I dunno – maybe this is why some relapses happen = maybe some people get lost in the label and stay stuck. or maybe they just have not broken free of the warm fuzzes they had with each drinking episode (because we sure are conditioned creatures) or maybe it is also just all those toxins in their gut that need to be cleansed and until hey cleanse – well they will crave drinks to assuage the physical imbalance and get relief from other things.

    oh wait, I said this would not be too long,
    okay so where was I?
    I also wanted to share that this is why my husband stopped drinking beer -to not have the hangovers. He reached an age where just 2 beers would give him a horrid headache the next day and that ruined his entire day. and well, you worded that so well. Also, while moving away from beer, my hubs also allowed his organs to get healthier (esp. lover) and may just have a higher quality life all around. so it is win-win – and saves money ha!

    okay have a nice day and thx for an interesting read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know why some relapse and it is a vexing issue for sure. Our brains hold so stubbornly to perceived rewards that it would seem absolutely necessary to consciously remember the many downsides to health, relationships, well being, etc. But it’s always a choice to drink or not, and at this point in my sobriety, a simple and easy one to make. Thanks for this comment and all of those you leave here. I always get something from your insight and perspective.

      p.s. lol on lover!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. thanks for the reply – and that liver/lover – freudian slip?? lol
        but I like what you say…
        Our brains hold so stubbornly to perceived rewards…..
        so good….


      2. Hey K – also wanted to drop back by and let you know why I think I follow your blog. Well we never really know what brings us back – and when I unfollow a blog I usually have a few reasons – but I think I know a couple reasons why I like to drop by this blog.

        Well, to me – this blog is written by a woman who is just all about overall wellness. And that is in line with my life mission – I do not aim for perfection or fame, just want wellness and to enjoy the days for what they have in the midst of the ups and downs. And your wellness pursuit led you to saying adios to the brew… and so much more. This past summer I was paused from blogging for a little while, but I did check in on some. And one day, I was thinking about B-cubed and when I typed in bye bye beer through google, it led to a day 30 sugar post you had written in early 2013. And that is an example of what I am talking about – as you shared about the topic of “sugar” we just get this seasoned outlook – from a woman who is grounded and oh so wise…. I am sure not perfect (and not claiming to be) but just open and honest about trying to get the most from each day – and improve along the way… and that is pretty cool I’d say (okay, cheesy – but it is early in the day).


        Liked by 1 person

      3. Not cheesy at all and I sincerely appreciate your words and openness. I’m a big believer in progress, not perfection, and definitely attracted to others of that mindset. So glad to have your wisdom and support here.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. 🙂 thx – and funny how leaving off one word can change something so much – but I meant to add “you” into that last part – it was supposed to say that “I am sure that “you” are not perfect nor claiming to be” and that “you” are open and honest” etc. – ha!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. LOVED This! You are such an awesome writer, Kristen. I wanna meet the Mrs. Wimbly who looks like the apple tree and doesn’t give a flying monkey. Jazz hands…the comments…I’m dying this morning and waking up the house with laughter.
    Like Christy, I thought teetotaler had some religious connotation…mostly because my wine-loving, church going mama used the word in such hushed manners when she spoke of the neighbors. As for me…hmmm…I guess I could be thrown in the normie category with an apple tree lean toward one drink leaves me with a horrible hangover and therefore, not worth it! (are you getting the vibe that I loved your tree reference??)
    Regarding the polite, accidental tourist…there are no accidents, baby! Your spirit, your humor and your messages reach everyone who reads. Thank you for this today.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I like that you would want to meet her. It says a lot about your character. A lot of people avoided her back then…me especially. It will always be a “what if” thing, but I think now she probably had a very interesting story to tell. My parents bought the lot next door to her house. When they bought it, it had an old summer home still on it, which they later tore down to build anew. Mrs. W. still lived in her old cottage-type home and I think she must have had some fascinating stories about the people who once lived next door and her own life…who she’d been married to, what our town had been like then, what it was like raising a child there. Well anyway, thanks for your kind comment. It turned into another always welcome trip down Memory Lane.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I lost my comment to the ether, darn! In summary, the word teetotal makes me think of the old-fashioned books I loved as a young adult, and quilt patterns used by the temperance movement. I realize that in the past, I associated “teetotalers” with rigid, preachy people. But now I think the opposite, that teetotalers have to be pretty flexible, actually, which is much more interesting. I am 41, with nearly a year of sobriety, and I’m on a journey of self discovery that is bringing me peace and joy. I think I’ll join the teetotal movement with pride.


    1. I’m kind of glad the ether sucked up your first comment because this one made me tear up, it’s so freaking great. Being sober does require flexibility and opens up so much. Love that you’re finding peace and joy. So proud to be teetotaling alongside you.


  14. Great post, super enjoyable! For some reason, I feel “cooler” as a coffee drinker, but I am a closet tea drinker. I wouldn’t want people knowing how much tea I drink, so I do it alone, at night. Even my husband doesn’t really know. Coffee keeps me “badass.” I’m so twisted……. Thanks for the awesome read, made my day 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. That Drunkard’s Progress is as close to reality today as when it was first drawn. Luckily you can get off that bridge at any step and not continue that progress – that’s what I’ve found anyway


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