Easily Confused Words: Mescaline vs. Mezcal

Mescaline and mezcal are easily confused words.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary, but are possibly spelled incorrectly. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It suggests what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions couldn’t be more incorrect. At least it’s entertaining, right?

Mescaline is a noun. It’s a psychedelic drug that comes from cactus plants, including the peyote cactus. It came into pop culture in the 1960s with other hallucinogens like LSD and mushrooms; all of the above are illegal substances in the US. Peyote, used by indigenous populations in the Americas for centuries, has a similar psychological effect.

Mezcal is a noun. It means a Mexican alcoholic beverage made from the heart of the maguey plant. It is believed to have been developed by the Spanish conquerors (los conquistadores). It is not as popular as its cousin, tequila, but it has a following in the US and Asia. It is a legal beverage that is served in restaurants and bars in the US.It contains no mescaline or other drugs as of this writing.

So why do these words look so much alike? Both Mescaline and Mezcal derive from cactus or cactus-like plants. All plants have Latin names, which influence their English and Spanish names. So similar plants, and shared language roots, it’s really not that surprising.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Meztli remembers fondly tending bar as a twenty something in 1960s Baja: serving tequila, mezcal and cervezas all night long, then chilling on the beach with mescaline with her boyfriend at night. Those were carefree days.

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