What is the origin of "A shot of whiskey"?

I was reading a thread on another site about this and thought… Straight Dope is the place to ask about this. Thanks in advance for any input.

I give up. What’s the context for this? Isn’t a shot of whiskey a shot of whiskey? Is it a sex act? A sports term? An early Johnny Cash song? Give us some help here.

I don’t understand your confusion. I assume the OP is asking why a small glass of whiskey (or other spirits) is called a “shot” and not a small glass.

In a primitive bar setting, you can order beer or whiskey. In the latter case, you can have the whole bottle, or one “shot” - shotglass full - at a time.

“Beer and a shot” - for manly men. Nothing more complicated.

ETA: Etymology? A “shot” is a small amount of something. A “shot glass” is is a small glass that holds a small amount.

Apparently the term “shot glass” didn’t become current until the 1940s. The Wiki article gives a variety of unlikely origins for the term. Before the 1940s a glass for measuring liquor was called a jigger (as it still sometimes is).

Well, a “shot,” if it does mean a small amount of something, seems to either come from the drink sense or the hypodermic needle sense, so your explanation doesn’t really work. I’m not aware of “shot” simply meaning “a small amount” in any other context.

Here’s etymonline.com’s take on it.

The OED dates it from 1928, but it looks like it’s derived from an old term (from 1418) which means a bar tab. There’s an obsolete term from the 17th century that meant drinks in general, which probably came from the phrase “to stand shot,” meaning, “to pay your tab.”

It can be further traced to Old English scéotan, meaning “to pay.”

So when it was used to mean “a drink,” it came from the “bar tab.” The first cite (from P.G. Wodehouse) is “I’ll take a shot in a glass,” indicating he’ll take payment in liquid.

Exactly. On the other site it was claimed that the term “A shot of whiskey” originated in the old west. The claim was, a glass of whiskey cost 12 cents and so did a .45 cartridge and if a patron was short on cash a cartridge would be accepted as the price of a drink, hence, a shot of whiskey.

I tend to disbelieve this for some reason and figured the right answer would be found here. Thanks.

Three fingers over one cylindrical ice “cube” and keep the tiny sissy glass. Problem solved.

Typically I think, a shot glass holds 1.5 oz. whereas a jigger is only one ounce. Some drink recipes call for “a shot of X and a jigger of Y”, and a lot of shot glasses have a mark at the 1 oz. level; filled to the top is 1.5 oz.

Sounds like another of those contrived tales. Among other objections, a .45 cartridge is not referred to as a “shot”.

I’d say Exapno’s confusion is because he/she thought the question was specifically about the origin of the phrase “shot of whiskey” (and was hence confused as to what was so special about that particular phrase), not the origin of the term “shot”.

Exactly why I don’t believe the story.

You’re right about that but I didn’t find it all obvious. I’m on a permanent crusade to get posters to provide context for questions, especially about words or phrases. Who knows what the kids are saying these days?

A ngram for “a shot of whiskey” shows that it’s a much more recent term than most people would suppose.

Nope. A jigger is 1.5 oz.

Sorry, I should have said: “What is the origin of the term a shot of whiskey”.

For the record, I haven’t been a kid for a good many years.

"Old English scot, sceot "a shot, a shooting, an act of shooting; that which is discharged in shooting, what is shot forth; darting, rapid motion," from the previously cited Online Etymology Dictionary; bolding added.

Perhaps the act of quickly tossing back that size drink led to calling it a shot? The same action of quickly darting forth makes sense for hypodermic shot as well.

No problem. You inadvertently stepped on my pet peeve and got in the way of my ouch.

Right you are, my mistake. A shot & a jigger are the same, 1.5 oz. The 1 oz. dose apparently is called a “short shot” or “pony shot”.

That source suggests that there was an intermediate step: throwing down the TAB (bill, cheque) was likened to shooting something, and it was the tab that later was associated with the thing being paid for – a small amount of liquor.