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Moxie - Its Origin and Growing Popularity

by Jennifer Bab on July 09, 2019

From an anecdotal perspective, those people who recognize the term “moxie” today understand it to mean courage, spirit, determination (and the numerous other positive adjectives associated with its definition). However, very few understand the word’s origin and no one I could find (except my Dad who grew up in Boston, Massachusetts and is a human encyclopedia apart from that) knows it to be related to a once popular, local New England soda pop.  

Because many have been asking to share the word’s origin, here is what I’ve been able to gather. . .

The word “moxie” originates from the Algonquain Indian root “maski” meaning “dark water” or “medicine”. There are evergreen plants located in Maine with the name (e.g. Moxie Plum) as well as many Moxie-named locations throughout Maine (e.g., Lake Moxie, Moxie Falls, Moxie Gore Township, East Moxie Township). 

In around 1876, Dr. Augustin Thompson (born in Maine and spending most of his professional life in Massachusetts), began producing a bitter elixir known as “Moxie Nerve Food,” claiming to cure paralysis, loss of manhood and softening of the brain (Whoa! No wonder why a quick search on Moxie soda flooded my screen with male-only advertising!). By 1885, Dr. Augustin’s Moxie Nerve Company converted the medicine into a non alcoholic, carbonated drink, bottled and sold across New England; they called this soda pop “Moxie.” New Englanders who were growing up during its popularity may remember the drink; others, however, never seem to have heard of it. 

In the 20th Century, the word “moxie” itself -- entirely divorced from the elixir or soda -- came to mean courage, spirit, determination. It has been used for book titles and in media. Notably, it is an often-quoted line from The Sting (an iconic 1973 film which won seven academy awards including Best Picture), which may have helped to popularize the term (e.g., the mob boss tells one of the grifters trying to con him, but whom the boss perceives to be a young rising talent “you got moxie”). During the creation of Moxie Chic, my daughter and I jointly gasped with excitement when we heard Lorlei Gilmore use the term during an episode of one of our favorite series --The Gilmore Girls (although she did refer to a boy when she used it).  Alexia Vernon, author of Step Into Your Moxie and other titles as well as a public speaker,  complimented Michelle Obama for having Moxie and President Obama’s staff, in turn, dubbed Alexia a “Moxie Maven” for her work on women’s empowerment. More recently, Amy Poehler announced she was set to direct a Netflix series (Moxie) based on a book by Jennifer Mathieu called “Moxie” about a teen who starts a feminist revolution at her school. (You know I can’t wait for that to come out!) From mob fights to feminist revolutions, the term moxie seems to have been adopted by the general public and enjoyed by a variety of audiences. 

It’s no wonder that the term “moxie” has become increasingly ubiquitous, especially more recently.  Today, it is used by a wide range of companies and for a wide selection of products and services, including: men’s branded fishing gear and apparel, women’s plus/oversized apparel, hair salons, computer programming, marketing, movie theaters . . .The list goes on.  Even the ever-popular Pokemon trading card game uses the term “moxie” as an “ability” (which apparently “boosts the attack stat after knocking out any Pokemon” whatever that means?!).

From a prior blog, you already know why Moxie Chic decided to adopt the word and use it in the context of and as a symbol for female empowerment specifically. Thompson was onto something for sure separate and apart from any elixir or soda. Moxie -- the strong traits that it elicits and embodies -- is indeed medicine for the soul.  

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