Drinking the Kool-Aid: An Introduction

Remember Jonestown? (Koolaid Man)
Reprinted with Permission

The expression “drinking the Kool-Aid” is now deeply embedded into American slang. While its origins are painfully understood by most of the people who visit this site, it’s also true that no one knows when or in what context it first entered our slang lexicon. As time passes, two other characteristics of slang will occur: its earliest meaning will morph into a multitude of derivatives – indeed, that has already begun to happen – and fewer and fewer people who use it will know where it came from.

This website has a collection of articles and reflections on “Kool-Aid” as an image and as an expression, but the purpose of this column is to show how and where the expression in used, especially in American business (which is believed to have coined the term), in politics, and in sports. The uses also illustrate the numerous definitions “drinking the Kool-Aid” now has, including:

  • Offering allegiance and loyalty to a leader, company or concept, used in an ironically positive sense;
  • Offering blind allegiance or unthinking loyalty, accepting what an authority figure says without question;
  • Knowingly fighting unwinnable battles, persisting in lost causes beyond any chance of success; and
  • Becoming intoxicated or losing one’s perspective and ability to reason after ingesting a magic potion.

Some illustrations from 2006 appear here.

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on May 20th, 2020.
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