Marijuana plant

Marijuana is at the center of controversy over its legalization in some states, including Ohio.

MANSFIELD — It was me. 

I wrote the headline and used the word pot as a synonym for marijuana or cannabis in a story I wrote earlier this week about a group’s effort to get the psychoactive plant legalized for recreational use.

I had around 300 choices. There are hundreds of names for the controversial flora. My reasoning for ending up with pot is a bit anti-climactic. 

Here it is: It’s short, punchy — good for headlines.

Dillon Carr mug

Dillon Carr

Some readers balked at the use of the word, decrying it as “slang.” One particularly verbose, yet, articulate, commenter on Facebook feared the use of the word pot promulgated the negative stigma surrounding marijuana use. 

“Cannabis use isn’t about ‘smoking pot’ in a shed behind the school,” wrote Adrienne Krizan.

She went on to provide examples of some of the medical benefits of marijuana. Her take that the word "pot" had a negative connotation is something we kicked around in the newsroom at length.

I know there is a stigma around marijuana use. No argument there.

However, the comment did pique my interest about pot and its usage. Where does it come from?

Instead of participating in the tone-deaf back-and-forth that so often unfolds on social media, I decided to do some research. And then I shared my findings with my colleagues. Then, my editor suggested I write a column. 

So, here goes. 

The Associated Press Stylebook, a journalist’s bible, has this to say about the plant with many monikers. 

Marijuana is the dried flower of the cannabis plant and is used as a drug for recreational or medical purposes. Use marijuana on first reference generally; pot and cannabis are also acceptable. Some prefer cannabis because of arguments the term marijuana was popularized in the United States in the early 20th century to stoke anti-Mexican sentiment. Slang terms such as weed, reefer, ganja or 420 are acceptable in limited, colloquial cases or in quotations.

The entry goes on to provide clarity on additional terminology and usage details. According to the AP and my journalism camrades, I did nothing wrong.

Now, I know language is fluid. It changes and molds like clay. Some people, or cultures, use words that might carry different meaning for others.

So it doesn't escape me that pot could carry negative connotations for some.

Personally, pot is not slang. It means what it means, and to me, it means marijuana, or cannabis — whether it’s being used medically or recreationally.

A quick Google search on the origins of pot will call up an article on Dictionary.com. The word came into use in America in the 1930s. The theory explains it as a shortening of the Spanish potiguaya or potaguaya, a shortened version of potacion de guaya

The literal meaning is potion, or, drink, of grief. It is a wine or brandy in which marijuana buds have been steeped. 

Another theory exists that the word refers to a teapot, referencing another early usage of marijuana-infused tea. 

Scholars and linguists alike, though, admit these theories lack evidence

So, who knows. 

I just know I won’t stop using the term — both in spoken and written language — any time soon.

Dillon Carr is an Ontario High School and Ohio State University graduate. He is a reporter at Ashland Source.

Support Our Journalism

Our reporting empowers people to individually and collectively achieve progress in our region. Help make free, local, independent journalism sustainable by becoming a member.

I'm a left-handed goofball who likes drinking coffee. I like reading books playing outside & watching movies with my wife past midnight. I'm a Christian disenchanted with religiosity but enchanted with journalism.