The brain is highly associative. It’s interesting how you suddenly make a connection.
So, I’m listening to my “Minnie the Moocher” channel on Pandora and up popped a Cab Calloway song I had never heard before, “Reefer man.” I was only listening with half an ear but the first verse triggered a connection.
“Man, what’s the matter with that cat there?”
“Must be full of reefer”
“Full of reefer?!”
“You mean that cat’s high?”
“Get away from here!”
“Man is that the reefer man?”
“That’s the reefer man.”
When the call and reply got to “you mean that cat’s high…sailing, ” it clicked that in the days of sail that sails were “reefed” by pulling them into rolls. It was also sailor slang for a midshipmen or other novice.
The Online Etymology Dictionary confirmed that the marijuana “reefer” is probably related to the appearance of a reefed sail. It seems that way back in the day (1930s at least) the association with sailing was strong enough for “sailing” to be a synonym for “high”. I’m pretty sure “high” itself, as a term for doing or feeling well, most likely originated from the higher pay and status received by that sailers who worked as toppers high up on the masts. When a sailor was doing well professionally, he was “high.”
I’d never thought about the origin of the term “reefer” as slang for a marijuana joint. Knowing as many stoners as I have, I just assumed it was, like everything else stoners do, somehow related to bong making.