Friday Fact: Etymology of Tequila

Everybody knows Tequila is a (tasty) spirit. Surprisingly few know that it’s also a place.

The town of Tequila (site of Tres Agaves Tequila’s distillery) is nestled comfortably in the valley of Tequila, below the Tequila Volcano.

By my count, that’s four different things, all going by the same name.  Why is everything in sight down there called ‘Tequila’, and what does it mean? The authorities differ on this point.

Most agree that the term comes from an ancient Nahuatl word. It has been variously taken to mean ‘place of tribute’, and ‘place of work’ on one end of the spectrum, and ‘place of taxes’, ‘place of tricks’ on the other.

Other theories of the word’s original meaning center around the Tequila Volcano that looms over over the town. For instance, some believe that Tequila should be translated as ‘the rock that cuts’, a reference to the obsidian that is abundant in the area. At least a few others think Tequila is a corruption of ‘tetilla’, implying that the locals thought the mountain looked like a small breast.

Tequila isn’t Nahuatl’s only contribution to modern parlance. According to Wikipedia all of the following words and more can be traced back to this indigenous Mexican group of languages:

achiote, aguacate, cacahuate, chile, chipotle, chocolate, coyote, guacamole, jícara, jitomate, mezcal, mezquite, mole, nopal, popote, pozole, quetzal, tamal, tomate.