You've probably heard someone say "drinking the Kool-Aid" — and maybe you've said it yourself. But it's not just callous — it's inaccurate, too.
It wasn't Kool-Aid. Flavor-Aid is the real culprit.
The phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid" refers to the 1978 Jonestown massacre, in which more than 900 people committed mass suicide by drinking a flavored drink mixed with Valium, chloral hydrate, cyanide, and Phenergan. Kool-Aid's association with Jonestown has turned into a common meme and saying:
The surprising thing is that all the sources on the massacre say the powder was the grape variety of another drink brand, Flavor Aid. Made by Jel-Sert, Flavor Aid appeared in one of the first newspaper reports on the massacre. The claim is repeated in the 1982 book Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People. And surviving witnesses said that Flavor Aid was the drink used, not Kool-Aid.
With the evidence so clear, why did the phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid" emerge? Mental Floss suggests Kool-Aid's role as being a genericized name for all flavored drinks, the popularity of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and other factors made it easier to remember "Kool-Aid" than "Flavor Aid."
Why it's worth correcting the Kool-Aid mistake
Many of the strongest arguments to abandon the phrase come from San Diego State University's Jonestown Institute, including:
- Phyllis Gardner says the meme is part of the continuing dehumanization of victims at Jonestown.
- Mike Carter makes the obvious point that it trivializes the deaths to use the phrase at all.
- Al Tomkins at Poynter says that we shouldn't continue to tarnish Kool-Aid's name incorrectly.
Maybe you think enough time has passed since the massacre that sensitivity shouldn't be an issue. Even then, there's another reason to avoid saying "drinking the Kool-Aid": it's just not accurate.