One of my longtime commenters, Matt Norwood, mentioned something curious in the Jim Jones thread.
He’s convinced that the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” originated not with Jonestown... but with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters in the 1960s.
Matt says there’s an “edit war” raging on Wikipedia over this matter.
I was gonna let Matt’s comment slide, even though it riled me up. I mean, damn... it’s so fricking obvious by the way people use the term, it’s a reference to the Jonestown Massacre.
Then a British website linked to my Jim Jones post. And a commenter there wrote that “the cliche itself – Drink the Kool Aid – predates Jonestown by about twelve years, and refers to the use of LSD – a psychoactive drug – forty years ago as chronicled by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Acid Kool Aid Test.”
Enough of this bullshit! Let me prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that “drink the Kool-Aid” became an American colloquialism only after the mass suicides at Jonestown.
Just check the archives of the New York Times, America’s newspaper of record.
The first appearance in the New York Times of the phrase “drank the Kool-Aid” was on January 20, 1989.
It was uttered by Jack Solerwitz, a lawyer who’d represented striking air traffic controllers (and was ruined professionally as a result). “I was the only lawyer who kept the doors open for them,” Solerwitz told the Times, “and I thought I’d get a medal for it. Instead, I was the one who drank the Kool-Aid.”
“Drank the Kool-Aid” didn’t turn up again in the New York Times till 10 years later. But since 1999, it has appeared more than a dozen times.
Variations of this phrase became popular after the dot-com bubble burst in 2000. Consider the first appearance of “drinking the Kool-Aid” in the Times... in an op-ed column by tech journalist Rodes Fishburne:
“The saying around San Francisco Web shops these days, as companies run out of money, is ‘Just keep drinking the Kool-Aid,’ a tasteless reference to the Jonestown massacre. For some, there isn’t much Kool-Aid left.”
That was published in April of 2000. “Drinking the Kool-Aid” had never appeared in the New York Times before that.
As for plain old “drink the Kool-Aid,” that first appeared in the Times in January of 1997. Business executive Richard D. Parsons (pictured), a former friend to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, said this about Giuliani’s staff:
“The Mayor doesn’t necessarily surround himself with the creme de la creme. They’re well-meaning, but I’m not sure terribly long on judgment. It’s kind of like if the Mayor says, ‘Hey, let’s all drink the Kool-Aid,’ they all go ‘bottoms up.’ ”
So then... that settles it, right?