Have you ever heard a musician talk about their “fifth” or shopper reference the “fifth” item they picked up in a store? It is likely they are talking about the number five – but why is it such an important number in so many contexts? Why is it called a “fifth”?
In this article, we’ll take a look at the origin of this term and explain the various contexts in which it is used today. Join us on a journey through the history of “the fifth” and discover why so many things are referred to as “the fifth”.
Why Is It Called A Fifth?
A Common Measurement in LiquorChances are, if you’ve ever had liquor, you’ve seen or heard someone refer to it as a “fifth”.
But why is it called a fifth? After all, it’s a seemingly odd measure for liquor, and you’re either confused by or curious about the origin of the term, as it does not represent one-fifth of any particular bottle or quantity.
What Does a Fifth of Liquor Measure?
A fifth of liquor (often referred to as a “fifth of booze,” and written as 75L) is a very common quantity — it is a measure of
75 liters of liquor, or more colloquially, it is equal to 236 ounces. This measure is one-fifth of a gallon, hence its name.
History of the FifthThe term “fifth” was used as the standard amount of liquor to be purchased in some parts of the United States, usually to be shared among several people. The fifth was codified as the standard unit of measure in the early twentieth century.
Before the twentieth century, the standard alcohol bottle was generally labeled as a pint, and could contain two pints or two quarts of liquor.
Popularity of the Fifth as a MeasurementThe fifth became a commonplace measure for liquor in the US, around 1821, when Congress passed the Marking Act, which required all containers of distilled spirits to be marked with specific measure. This act lead to the general popularity of the fifth as a whiskey measure of choice, because the act specified a fifth as a number of gallons to be marked on each gallon container.
Thus, the fifth was a comfortable and standard unit of measure for liquor containers throughout the country. The “fifth” measure has been around for a couple of centuries, and it is here to stay — as it is a very standard, comfortable and common measure that offers consumers a convenient way to purchase liquor.