I’ve heard the expression “someone’s been drinking/drank the cool aid” multiple times. I know coolaid is a drink or something but it doesn’t really make sense in the context. I feel like there’s some type of cultural reference here. Could someone explain what this means?

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    There's a Wikipedia article: Drinking the Kool-Aid – wjandrea Apr 7 '20 at 13:24
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    Someone suggested an edit correcting the spelling of "Kool-aid". I rejected it because I believe the confusion comes from this: "Cool" and "aid" are both valid words, which is probably why the OP had never thought it was a brand. The phrase 'cool aid' just doesn't make sense. – user178049 Apr 9 '20 at 3:01
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    @user178049 fair point, but there are three different spellings used in the whole question. Perhaps whoever edited the question wanted to simply make the spelling consistent? Subject: Kool-aid. First sentence: cool aid. Second sentence: coolaid ... – 0xC0000022L Apr 9 '20 at 8:19
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    @user178049 - While that may be a potential source of confusion, the fact that Kool-Aid is a brand name really isn't relevant to the question. The expression alludes to a specific historical event, in which Kool-Aid supposedly featured, but the idea that it was a Kool-Aid branded drink is entirely incidental. The key to understanding the expression is knowing about the event, not knowing the brand. – Dave Sherohman Apr 9 '20 at 9:23
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    @DaveSherohman I disagree. The fact that the "Kool-Aid" mentioned in the phrase that confused the OP is a brand name is crucial to the question. If you don't know that that mention in the phrase is a brand name, it's confusing as user178049 explains. "The key to understanding the expression is knowing about the event, not knowing the brand" -- but it was the brand name the OP heard. And because this event you mention is obscure, that is another source of confusion. – Rosie F Apr 9 '20 at 17:35

"Drinking the Kool-Aid" refers to the mass suicide of the "People's Temple" cult at Jonestown, Guyana in 1979. Hundreds of members of the cult are incorrectly believed to have killed themselves by drinking fruit-flavored punch laced with cyanide. Actually, the drink believed to be used was the brand Flavor Aid, NOT the brand Kool-Aid, but "drinking the Kool-Aid" became a saying that means slavish adherence to a delusional belief. This despite the fact that cult members were murdered after trying to escape, rather than slavish adherents. See the 4th Wikipedia paragraph for details.

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    Yeah, sadly (for the people who make Kool-Aid), this was a case where being the more well-known brand worked against them. Really the phrase should be "drink the Flavor Aid", but who's heard of them? (Notably, the linked article contains twice as much text about the Jonestown massacre as it does about the product itself. Imagine if that was the only fact anyone knew about your product. How's that for a legacy?) – Darrel Hoffman Apr 7 '20 at 13:32
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    @Nathan To add to this answer, the expression generally means, when said of someone, that they have so deeply bought into some type of propaganda or other questionable ideology or notion that they believe it deeply and without question, regardless of the evidence that may exist to discredit that view. – J... Apr 7 '20 at 18:35
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    To be honest, the fact that this has become a by-word for gullibility is a bit unfair to the victims of the slaughter. According to Wikipedia the adults who drank the poisoned Flavor-Aid were faced with armed guards who were prepared to shoot anyone who disobeyed. – EvilSnack Apr 7 '20 at 19:46
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    @EvilSnack - Yeah. Suicide at gunpoint != suicide. – Don Branson Apr 8 '20 at 21:26
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    The answer as posted is misleading: The members did in fact kill themselves by drinking cyanide-laced punch. – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- Apr 8 '20 at 23:35

Sara T's explanation is often thought of as the origin, but the expression actually started getting used by "baby boomers" after Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test came out in 1968. The book chronicles the activities of Ken Kesey, one of the leaders of the hippie counterculture movement, and his followers, in particular their habit of getting together and taking LSD in order to have some sort of revelatory experience. (Electric Kool-Aid is Kool-Aid laced with LSD, and was popular at parties back in the day.)

From the linked article about the book:

The Acid Tests are parties where everyone takes LSD (which was often put into the Kool-Aid they served) and abandon the realities of the mundane world in search of a state of "intersubjectivity."

"Intersubjectivity" is achieved by subordinating one's subjective understanding of reality to a group-defined consensus of reality revealed by the "enhanced insight" that one derives from being high on LSD. (In the case of the book, it would seem that that "consensus reality" is pretty much what Ken Kesey says it is.)

The book was very popular in the hippie counterculture of the time, and people who were "into" that counterculture (including me, at least to some extent) were often said to have "drunk the Kool-Aid."

The definition got broader as time progressed, morphing into the more general meaning of "slavish adherence to a delusional belief" that Sarah describes, and given a push in that direction by the horrific event at Jonestown, and the similar Heaven's Gate incident.

(I sat around talking with some of the latter's recruiters for several hours over a couple of days when they visited my campus back in 1977, but I never drank the Kool-Aid.)

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    Interesting; do you have any references for the phrase pre-dating the mass suicide? – IMSoP Apr 7 '20 at 10:59
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    @IMSoP only the primary one of having used it myself, and having it be a fairly common term among my acquaintances. I haven't read the book, so there may be some in there in perhaps a more literal sense. – BobRodes Apr 7 '20 at 18:01
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    FWIW - I lived through that era and never heard the expression "drink the Kool-Aid" or anything like it until after the People's Temple/Jonestown incident. – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Apr 7 '20 at 22:57
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    Google n-Gram viewer shows the first appearance of the phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid" in books only from about 1981, and then becoming more common from the end of the nineties: books.google.com/ngrams/… So that does support that it became widespread at least only after Jonestown. – Michael MacAskill Apr 8 '20 at 0:06
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    I found the text: web.archive.org/web/20010804045822/http://… It predates Jonestown by a year. – Stefan Apr 9 '20 at 9:13

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