The Soda-Inspired Origin Of The Term 'Moxie'

"You know what you got, Jay? You got moxie!"

Spoken by Richard Dreyfuss' character in the 1993 movie Lost in Yonkers, this colorful-sounding word has found a home in the vocabulary of street-wise mafiosos, athletic coaches, and sometimes even movie critics. Usually referring to one's courage or energy (via Merriam-Webster), moxie seems to associate itself with underdogs rising up to meet the impossible or showing some spirit, i.e., "You got moxie, kid!" It's just one of those words that are old-fashioned but rolls off the tongue very easily.

But where exactly does the word come? What does it have to do with a brand of soda, anyway? While readers in New England may be able to answer this question right off the bat, those outside the region may be grasping at straws. The origin of moxie doesn't come from hard-nosed gangsters in the 1920s or spunky kids growing up in the Bronx, but rather it all ties back to the invention of one Maine physician back in 1883.

Moxie is a soda found in New England

In the late 1880s, Dr. Augustin Thompson, a physician and Civil War veteran from Union, Maine, patented a rather unique "medical tonic": Moxie Nerve Food. The idea of a carbonated drink having health benefits was not unheard of in those days (via McGill), and unlike medicine show shysters that were popular at the time, it would seem that Thompson truly intended it to be a health drink. Using a variety of ingredients like gentian root, wintergreen, and sassafras (via Herbalgram), Moxie Nerve Food was sold as a "cure-all" for all sorts of medical ailments, though it eventually dropped the health claims following the passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. 

The name "Moxie" is said to be associated with an old Native American word for "dark water," used by the tribes that previously called modern-day Maine their home, according to Useless Etymology, although the word is now more or less a synonym for courage or strength. In fact, due to Moxie's strong, somewhat bitter taste thanks to the gentian root, it has fans who describe the taste as a bubble gum-like flavor, while others describe it as way too bitter, via HuffPost

In 2005, Moxie was made New England's state drink (via Today) and can be purchased from the official Moxie website, in case you get the moxie to have a taste.