It’s one of those often repeated debates that goes nowhere: Why didn’t prohibition work? Both sides of the debate ante up and henceforth argue ad nausea. So with the help of Google’s Ngram Viewer, I’m going to provide a simple, visual explanation of human nature and why prohibition failed. If this doesn’t explain it, nothing will.
Google’s Ngram Viewer is a cool little tool that graphs the occurrence of words in the literature (books, etc.) over time. It shows you how often a word was used during a particular period and how the usage has increased or decreased. One of the first words I plugged into it was cocktail and an interesting result popped up. It shows a significant increase in the use of “cocktail” during the period of prohibition. Odd, considering the goal of prohibition was to kill off alcoholic drinks.
First, here is a look at the word “cocktail” from 1800 to 2000.
Now here is a look at the period around the “noble experiment”:
As you can see, at the turn of the century the term “cocktail” hadn’t established itself in English literature. From 1806 to 1900 the word cocktail appears in 0.0000200% of printed documents (newspapers, books, etc.).
As the date of the “Noble Experiment” approaching (1920) the number of times, the word cocktail is used in English literature steadily increases to 0.0000500% or an increase of 150%.
From 1920 to 1930 the graph almost goes exponential, and by 1930 the usage of the term cocktail increased to 0.0001500, or 750%. Around 1935 it is at 0.0002000 or a 1000% (10x) increase since 1900.
The use of the word cocktail peaks in 1945 at about 0.0002400 or a 1200% increase since 1900.
Basically, during prohibition, the use of the word cocktail quadruples in literature.
What is a plausible if not obvious explanation? I would say that with all the attention the Temperance Movement gave ardent spirits and the cocktail, it piqued everyone’s curiosity. And nothing is harder to quench than human curiosity; we love the forbidden fruit. Serpent Fang Appletini anyone?
So, in a twisted way, everyone who enjoys a well-crafted cocktail should raise a glass and thank a Prohibitionist for giving the cocktail the rightful attention it deserved and making it a mainstay of the bar.