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A calque of a Native American language term, probably Ojibwe ishkodewaaboo (alcohol), from ishkodew- (fire) + -aaboo (liquid”, glossed in older works as “water). A number of other Algonquian and Siouan languages also refer to whiskey with compounds that mean "fire-water" (on which basis noted Algonquianist Leonard Bloomfield even reconstructed a Proto-Algonquian word for it, *eškwete·wa·po·wi, although this could not have existed). Likely so-called due to frequent inclusion of red pepper by traders in order to hide the taste of cheap, doctored alcohol, often including low-grade ingredients such as tobacco juice, molasses, etc, and due to the general distinctive "burn" of ingesting high-proof alcohol.

Non-alcohol-related senses are simply fire +‎ water.


firewater (countable and uncountable, plural firewaters)

  1. (informal) High-proof alcohol, especially whiskey (especially in the context of its sale to or consumption by Native Americans).
    • 2012, Tom Lamont, How Mumford & Sons became the biggest band in the world (in The Daily Telegraph, 15 November 2012)[1]
      Four polite Englishmen in their middle 20s, feigning like firewater drunks in a Eugene O'Neill play: it's exactly the stuff that makes their detractors groan.
  2. High-temperature hydraulic condensate discharged from industrial boilers.
  3. (manufacturing) Water for use in firefighting.
    • 1981, Energy Progress[2], page 205:
      A continuously circulated firewater line supplies a deluge cooling system in each gathering center for fire containment.
    • 2015 March 18, Karen Caffarini, “Cause of line break unknown at BP”, in Post-Tribune[3]:
      A break in a firewater line at BP Whiting Refinery caused water with an oil-like sheen to spread outside the refinery's walls along a section of Indianapolis Boulevard Tuesday night.