Doping Gives Dutch ‘Sauce’ Nastier Tone

August 17, 2013

Doping Gives Dutch ‘Sauce’ Nastier Tone
Wall Street Journal, Aug. 17, 2013

Several sports—baseball, track and field, and cycling, to name three—are embroiled in scandals involving athletes taking performance-enhancing drugs. So what is the inside dope on how the unethical use of drugs for a competitive edge came to be called “doping”?

If you check the website for the World Anti-Doping Agency, you will see one explanation: “The word doping is probably derived from the Dutch word dop, the name of an alcoholic beverage made of grape skins used by Zulu warriors in order to enhance their prowess in battle.” Etymologists discount that theory as unlikely, however. While Dutch is ultimately the origin for “doping,” the key developments in the word’s history occurred in the U.S., far removed from any Zulu warriors.

When Dutch settlers first migrated to the American colonies, they infused the English spoken there with many items from their own lexicon. One such word was doop, meaning “sauce” or “gravy.” Washington Irving spelled the word a bit differently in 1807, when he wrote of a character named Philo Dripping-pan and “his love of what the learned Dutch call doup.”

Over the 19th century, the Anglicized version of the word, spelled as “dope,” was used for various syrupy concoctions, often medicinal. “Dope” also became part of opium-den slang: An 1883 article in Truth, a New York newspaper, explained that “a hop toy of dope” was “‘fiend patter’ for smoking a considerable quantity of opium.”

Meanwhile, “dope” was working its way into the sport of horse-racing, to refer to a substance given to a horse either to slow it down or speed it up, depending on how gamblers wanted the race to go. In 1873, the Idaho Statesman reported on a race in which a mare started quickly before abruptly letting up: “There is no doubt but that foul play was the cause of her losing, the mare having been ‘doped’ by some one interested in the horse winning.”

Such “doping” was so widespread a century ago that a “tout” offering racing tips would need to know which horses were being drugged to run faster or slower. A tout’s record of the particulars of a race came to be called a “dope sheet” or “dope book,” and from that we get the slangy sense of “dope” meaning “inside information.”

“Doping” among human competitors gained international attention in 1928, when the International Amateur Athletic Federation banned the use of stimulating substances. The guidelines were vague, however, and testing nearly nonexistent. “Doping” remained ill-defined in international competitions for decades, as antidoping officials struggled to keep up with the development of anabolic steroids and other drugs designed to give athletes an illicit boost. Semantically speaking, “doping” remains slippery indeed.

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