General English

General Science

  • noun a colourless liquid which is formed by the action of yeast on sugar solutions. It is a component of drinks such as wine and whisky and is also an ingredient of organic chemicals and medicines.
  • noun an organic compound containing the -OH group


  • Ethyl alcohol, C2H5OH, is widely distributed in interstellar space, along with other molecules of abundant elements


  • The generic name for a class of chemical compounds which includes ethanol, the commonest mood-altering substance used in all cultures. Most are toxic, particularly methanol which is found in methylated and surgical spirits and many household liquids. Propanol and butanol, the other common alcohols, are used as solvents and in cleaning agents.


  • noun a pure colourless liquid which is formed by the action of yeast on sugar solutions and forms part of drinks such as wine and whisky


  • the chemical compounds that are the result of the chemical process of fermentation when sugars from the grape juice are processed by yeast. Alcohol is a tasteless and colourless liquid and in wine it mostly consists of ethyl alcohol. It provides much of the body and balance of a wine. The alcohol content is usually shown on the label on the bottle. It normally varies between 8 and 14 per cent by volume and content for wine. The alcohol content of sherry is normally 17 to 20 per cent by volume and for port it is 18 to 20 per cent by volume.

Origin & History of “alcohol”

Originally, alcohol was a powder, not a liquid. The word comes from Arabic al-kuhul, literally ‘the kohl’ – that is, powdered antimony used as a cosmetic for darkening the eyelids. This was borrowed into English via French or medieval Latin, and retained this ‘powder’ meaning for some centuries (for instance, ‘They put between the eyelids and the eye a certain black powder made of a mineral brought from the kingdom of Fez, and called Alcohol’, George Sandys, Travels 1615). But a change was rapidly taking place: from specifically ‘antimony’, alcohol came to mean any substance obtained by sublimation, and hence ‘quintessence’. Alcohol of wine was thus the ‘quintessence of wine’, produced by distillation or rectification, and by the middle of the 18th century alcohol was being used on its own for the intoxicating ingredient in strong liquor. The more precise chemical definition (a compound with a hydroxyl group bound to a hydrocarbon group) developed in the 19th century.