The New Student's Reference Work/Alcohol
Al'cohol, the spirit of fermented liquors. The word is of Arabic origin, and was originally used as the name of a kind of black paint used by Eastern women for darkening the eyes. It is not known why the word was applied to its present use. Alcohol is made from the juice of grapes, apples, etc., and from corn, grain and other materials containing starch, after the latter has been converted into sugar. When the juices or "mashes" ferment or "work", the sugar which they contain changes into the spirit alcohol. It has great affinity for water, which is to a great degree separated from it by distillation and other processes. When pure it is a deadly poison, and is the intoxicating principle in the so-called spirituous liquors. Brandy, whiskey, rum and gin, which are called distilled liquors, are about one-half alcohol; port wine about one-fourth or one-fifth, and claret and white wines one-tenth, while ale and cider have still less.
When alcohol is drunk it undergoes oxidation in the body, just as sugar, starch and other similar substances do. As a narcotic, it produces at first high spirits; then, as it gets possession of the nerves of feeling, stupidity; then when it has paralyzed the nerves of motion, insensibility; and, finally, if taken in large enough quantities, it reaches the heart and the result is death. Alcohol has many interesting properties and uses. As it never freezes at any natural temperatures, it is used in cold countries in thermometers. It is used in medicines by mixing it with drugs; in varnishes by mixing with resins and gums; and in cologne by mixing with oils. It is used in preserving specimens, as it is an antiseptic. Chemists find it a clean and valuable fuel.