Admiralty Island, Alaska, Usa
From the Canadian Yukon we head almost five hundred miles south to the Alexander Archipelago, the mass of islands and islets that comprise the narrow fringe of land along Alaska’s Pacific Ocean coast. At ninety miles in length and slightly larger than Majorca, Admiralty Island is among the largest of these thousand or so islands, and stands just a few miles from the mainland opposite the Alaskan capital city, Juneau.
Where is Admiralty Island, Alaska, Usa? – Admiralty Island, Alaska, Usa Map – Admiralty Island, Alaska, Usa Map Download Free Photo Gallery
Despite its proximity to the mainland, Admiralty is home to just over six hundred people, the majority of whom occupy a native Tlingit community called Angoon. So sparsely populated is this island wilderness that the brown bears here outnumber the local Tlingit population by three to one. Oddly, it’s those two facts together that lie at the etymological root of the word in question.
The local Tlingit name for Admiralty Island is Xootsnoowu, which (perhaps unsurprisingly given the population statistics above) is said to mean ‘fortress of the bears’. In the late 1800s, as the Tlingit became more closely integrated with the settlers and prospectors who ventured ever further into the Alaskan wilderness on the hunt for gold and furs, that local name fell into use in English in an array of anglicised forms, such as Kootznahoo, Hootzenoo and Hoochinoo.
Hoochinoo, ultimately, came to be used both as a colloquial name for the Tlingit settlement on Admiralty Island, and for the native
Tlingit people who lived there. And, from the late 1870s onwards, it became attached to the eye-wateringly strong alcoholic spirit that the Tlingit brewed up on the island:
The name of firewater in Alaska is ‘hoochinoo,’ and recently the House [of Representatives] gave its official sanction to the word by enacting that no whisky, beer or ‘hoochinoo’ shall be sold in Alaska.
But hoochinoo is (literally) a bit of a mouthful. So, over the years that followed, it gradually simplified in form and spelling until by the turn of the century the Tlingit’s firewater had become known simply as hooch.
Before long, that name had generalised in the language, acting as a byword in English slang for any doctored, poor-quality or impossibly strong alcoholic liquor. And we’ve had hooch – a word we owe to a remote bear-strewn island in the Alaskan wilderness – ever since.