Word Origin & History
"unlicensed saloon," 1889 (in New York "Voice"), from speak + easy, from the practice of speaking quietly about such a place in public, or when inside it, so as not to alert the police and neighbors. The word gained wide currency in U.S. during Prohibition (1920-1932). In early 19c. Ir. and British dialect,
a speak softly shop meant "smuggler's den."