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What is Alcohol?

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A row of alcoholic beverages

A row of alcoholic beverages

Henrik Sorensen / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Definition: A colorless, flammable liquid obtained through the fermentation of sugars and starches. Alcohol is widely used as a solvent as well as in drugs, cleaning solutions, explosives, and intoxicating beverages.

The word alcohol is believed to have derived from the Arabic word al-kuhl. Among other meanings, Arabic chemists used al-kuhl in reference to an essence obtained through distillation. The English word alcohol was first recorded in 1543 and derived through Medieval Latin from this Arabic word. One of the distilled essences in particular was fermented liquors that cause intoxication when ingested known as "alcohol of wine," thus giving us the term Alcohol as we use it in English today.

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