Ken Burns’ Prohibition Series

Wasn’t Ken Burns’ “Prohibition” series great? That man invented the historical documentary with the Brooklyn Bridge story in 1981 and has been going strong since. Nothing tops his Civil War series, in my opinion, but Prohibition was superb. I learned quite a bit that will be useful in my writing and confirmed that I hadn’t made any egregious errors in what I’ve already written.  

I learned the origins of a couple words: SCOFLAW. The dictionary says “contemptuous law violator” and dates the word to 1924, right in the middle of Prohibition. But the rest of the story is interesting: a publication offered a prize for the best word to describe those who flouted the laws, and this was the winner. And BOOTLEGGER? The dictionary gives several definitions for smuggling illegal liquor, but the story behind the word is that it dated from the 1850s in Maine, when men would hide bottles in their pants leg. Why Maine? It was one of the first, perhaps the first state to pass a law prohibiting the sale of alcohol in 1851. Because the state borders Canada, people who wanted liquor could walk across the national boundary to buy liquor and carry it back in their pants leg. 

 

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