I almost never drink alcohol and used to consider myself a teetotaler, though I never actually used the term because it seemed somewhat Victorian. But I had never thought about how the word originated and this article clued me in.
It dates back to the 1820s and 1830s when alcohol consumption in the United States dramatically increased. Back then, drinking was an all-or-nothing habit, explains Jon Grinspan, curator of political history at the National Museum of American History. The “tee” in “teetotaler” likely refers to temperance activists who were totally opposed to alcohol with “a capital T” (or “tee”). Similar to the way people used the label of capital-R Republicans or W-Whigs, being a T-Totaler was a distinct identity. It was only after Prohibition ended that drinking in moderation became more popular and the label fell out of fashion.
Since I am not totally opposed to alcohol and have on occasion consumed small amounts of wine and beer, it looks like technically I am not a teetotaler.
On social occasions when I ask for a non-alcoholic drink, my hosts often think I must have religious objections to alcohol, which I find amusing. My lack of interest in alcohol is mainly because I do not like the taste. Also, Sri Lanka used to have a lot of heavy drinkers and growing up I have seen too many people drink too much at parties and then say and do things they later regretted, or at least should have regretted. I vowed never to let that happen to me so have never drunk more than a token amount since. On the one occasion in my twenties where I drank a little more than usual at a party, I did not enjoy the sensation that I was slowly losing control of my words and actions and so stopped at once. Fortunately, my group of friends were also not heavy drinkers, so I did not face much peer pressure to do so.