Try these out at your next happy hour – 17 of the Finest Words for Drinking


Definition:slang : mildly drunk

About the Word:
If the number of words that a language has to describe a specific thing somehow reflects on the people who speak that language, then the English-speaking people (or at least our collective livers) are in a rather sorry state.

We have hundreds of words describing alcohol and its various effects.

One article in The American Journal of Psychiatry from 1900 counted over 350 synonyms for drunk. Just among the forms that begin with ‘drunk as a’ we see that someone can be as drunk as an ass, a boiled owl, a brewer’s horse, a drum, a fiddler, a fish, a fly, a lord, a mouse, a pipey, a tapster, a rat, a sow, and a wheelbarrow.

Sometimes, however, one is only half-of-an-ass drunk or less. Fortunately English allows for more precise measurement – as with jingled, which describes those only mildly drunk.

Definition:: bold or courageous under the influence of alcoholic drink

“‘Never, sir,’ rejoined Pott, – pot-valiant in a double sense – ‘never.'” – Charles Dickens, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, 1838

About the Word:
Strong drink has often been referred to as liquid-courage, a compound noun that is quite useful and easy to understand. In pot-valiant we have an adjective to describe someone who feels the effects of drinking this substance.

As an added bonus the word is rather obscure and will confuse most people to whom you say it.

Half-seas Over
Definition:: drunk

About the Word:
There’s a lovely old English ditty, found in a book of British songs and verse from 1869, titled Half-Seas Over, which extols the benefits of a man getting slightly soused before attempting to wax romantic with a woman:

If maid or widow you would win,
And wear your wished-for treasure,
You’ll find it best to fill your skin
With just the proper measure.
With less than that to feed your flame,
You’ll prove too cold a lover:
While more might overshoot your aim;
So woo her-half-seas over

Definition:: a drinking party; especially : one following a banquet and providing music, singing, and conversation

About the Word:
Symposium is typically used today to describe a meeting of experts or a published collection of articles on a subject, but the word was first used in English to describe a sort of drinking party. In fact, the word originally comes from the ancient Greek sympinein, meaning ‘to drink together.’

Given its history, symposium serves as a useful reminder that the current meaning of a word will often have strayed far afield from its roots

Definition:: a drink of liquor taken to counteract the effect of fog or dampness

“O yes, famous of a rainy morning, Mr. Sergeant! A mighty antifogmatic. It prevents you the ague, Mr. Sergeant; and clears a man’s throat of the cobwebs, sir.” – Peter Horry & Mason Weems, The Life of General Francis Marion, 1860.

Having a drink was thought to cure illness, provide strength, and warm the body. A drink could take many forms: a blackstrap, a syllabub, a toddy, a flip, a rattle-skull, a stonewall, a whistle-whetter, a snort, and—for shots of rum had first thing in the morning—an antifogmatic. According to Benjamin Franklin’s Drinker’s Dictionary, a drunk could be described as being halfway to Concord, having a head full of bees, or being the recipient of a thump over the head with Sampson’s jawbone.

About the Word:
A travel book, written in the beginning of the 19th century, provides a mention of antifogmatics, along with a short list of other types of drinks that were supposedly enjoyed by the residents of the state of Virginia at that time.

In addition to the drink meant to counteract the fog, there were gum-ticklers (‘a gill of spirits, generally rum, taken fasting’), the phlegm-cutter (‘a double dose just before breakfast’), and the gall-breaker (‘about half a pint of ardent spirits’). Somehow, none of these names have survived into the lexicon of modern cocktails.

17 of the finest words for drinking amethyst
Definition:: a clear purple or bluish violet variety of crystallized quartz that is often used as a jeweler’s stone

About the Word:
Amethyst was at one time considered able to ward off the effects of alcohol. The name of the stone comes from the ancient Greek word amethystos, ‘remedy against drunkenness.’

Theophrastus, a student of Plato, opined that the stone was assigned these qualities on the sound scientific basis that both amethyst and wine are purple, and so should cancel each other out.

Amethyst is not the only sobering stone in the history of wine drinking: dionise (a rock named after Dionysus, the Greek god of wine) was likewise thought to prevent intoxication.

17 of the finest words for drinking crapulous
1 : marked by intemperance especially in eating or drinking

2 : sick from excessive indulgence in liquor

“And to say nothing of Morning-qualms, Head-achs, crapulous Clouds, and Surfeits, which are no contemptible Maladies, if, at least, their frequency be consider’d …” – The Great Sin and Folly of Drunkenness, with a particular address to the Female Sex, 1707

About the Word:
Just to be clear, there is no evidence suggesting that crapulous and crap (as in ‘feeling like crap’ are related, either etymologically or through some distant uncle.

The former comes to us from the Greek word kraipalē (which means ‘intoxication,’ or ‘drunken headache’ the latter comes from a British dialect word meaning ‘residue from rendered fat.’

17 of the finest words for drinking obejoyful
Definition:: intoxicating drink

“In the morning, after breakfast, we started on out intended expedition, taking only provisions enough for the day, and a sufficient quantity of ‘O-be-joyful.’” – Lucy Crawford, The History of the White Mountains, 1845

About the Word:
O-be-joyful began reaffirming the positive properties of intoxicants about two hundred years ago, and although the word is not in considerable use today, a book from 1977 asserted that an abbreviated form of the phrase was still in common use in some areas, and that “some New Englanders even today write ‘OBJ’ on their shopping lists.”

17 of the finest words for drinking katzenjammer
Definition:: the nausea, headache, and debility that often follow dissipation or drunkenness

“And then he woke up, and oh! SUCH a Katzenjammer.” – Geyer’s Stationer: Devoted to the Interests of the Stationery and Kindred Trades, 1909.

About the Word:
Katzenjammer has been seen in print in English since at least 1834, when the word appeared in an article on German dueling. A direct translation of the word would be ‘the cat’s misery.’

Although cats are not known to be habitual drunkards, the word entered our language with all the malignant brio of a magnificent hangover. By the early 20th century the word was familiar to many from the title of a popular cartoon about impish children, The Katzenjammer Kids.

17 of the finest words for drinking vandyke
Definition:: to stagger, weave, or wander in the zigzag course of one drunken or irresolute

“… and, so saying, he discussed two bottle of old Bordeaux, and, staggering to a bye lane, vandyked to Farningham-having, however, had the precaution of depositing in his pockets a brace of champagne, twins of hock, and the best portion of a Westphalia …” – Fraser’s Magazine, February 1831

About the Word:
Vandyke has a lovely etymology incongruous with so unlovely an activity. It comes from the name of Anthony Van Dyck – and not because he was a drunken sot.

The Flemish painter was in the habit of painting subjects who wore collars featuring deeply indented or zagging collars. His name was then applied to various things reminiscent of that distinctive shape, be that thing a sharply edged border on a piece of furniture, or the hapless weaving of one who has imbibed overmuch of drink.

Bug Juice
17 of the finest words for drinking bugjuice
Definition:: inferior whiskey or other strong liquor

Have you never heard of a kind of gin
That makes ’em fat as well as thin,
That makes ’em tight as well as loose?
Have you never heard of Slangy Sleuce and his bug juice?

About the Word:
The disambiguation page for bug juice found on Wikipedia helpfully provides several possible applications for the term. These include the United States Marine Corps’ slang for insect repellent; extremely sweet drinks often found at summer camps; the alcoholic definition found at the beginning of this entry; and the name of a children’s television show that ran on the Disney Channel from 1998-2001.

Perhaps the Disney Channel picked this title after finding that Rotgut and Plonk were already taken.

17 of the finest words for drinking jackroller
Definition:: one who robs a drunken or sleeping person

“A Jackroller spotted ‘Clinker’ and accosted him. Clinker pulled him aside as said: ‘Say, Bo! Lissen ter dis bird twitter, will youse: Do youse tink dat I’m a country Jake?'” – The National Provisioner.

About the Word:
There was a professional boxer from New York City in the beginning of the 20th century named Jack Roller. It seems a good name for a pugilist, and it would be fitting were his name the origin for this colorful word. It is not.

Jackroller comes from the combination of jack (‘a man of the common people’) and the action of “rolling” someone (‘to rob (a person) usually by going through the person’s pockets while he or she is drunk, asleep, or unconscious’).

One time, this jack roller crushed me one walking out of a bar — you could call it a sucker punch, but any fool not six sheets to the wind would have seen it coming, and I was eight sheets gone — right along the supraorbital ridge, where socket rings eye, and I experienced this crazy sensation of my eyes bugging out of my head, this telescopic view of the sidewalk, curbed cars, the moon and stars.

17 of the finest words for drinking nippitaty
Definition: obsolete : particularly good and strong liquor; especially : good ale

“… az yet too for tast of a cup of Nippitate, hiz iudgment will be taken abooue the best in the parish, be hiz noze near so red …” – Robert Laneham, letter, 1575

About the Word:
No one is quite certain where nippitaty (also seen on occasion as nippitate, nippitato, and nippitatum) comes from, although it’s been staggering about in the English language since the 16th century.

No etymologists, to the best of my knowledge, have suggested that it is simply a drunken rendering of some other word, unintentionally coined by some scribe after having enjoyed several large glasses of the stuff.

Angel’s Share
17 of the finest words for drinking angelsshare
Definition:: an amount of an alcoholic drink (such as cognac, brandy, or whiskey) that is lost to evaporation when the liquid is being aged in porous oak barrels

“He reflected a moment, then leaned closer. ‘Lady Trembel’s scent wasn’t that of the angel’s share.’” – Donna MacMeans, Redeeming the Rogue, 2011

About the Word:
The angel’s share has the sound of a fine old expression, muttered by crooked old makers of ardent spirits since the days of yore, as they carefully craft their variants of whiskey that had been produced by the same yard of peat bog for a thousand years.

However, there is no known written evidence for this term before 1970, when it appears in an article in the Los Angeles Times on cognac makers: “‘We are allowed 5% evaporation a year,’ Hine said. In France this is known as ‘the angel’s share.'”

Ross Morrison, director of Scotch Bonnet and whisky industry veteran, spoke with various distillers about the bane of the ‘angels’ share’ and its direct impact on their profitability. He collaborated with friend Ken Hooker, owner of packaging firm Proteus, to create the Scotch Bonnet cask. Made from sustainably sourced, natural fibreboard, the cask does not eliminate evaporation from the barrel but has been shown to significantly decrease it without affecting the taste of the spirit.

17 of the finest words for drinking musth
Definition: a periodic state of murderous frenzy of the bull elephant usually connected with the rutting season and marked by the exudation of a dark brown odorous ichor from tiny holes above the eyes

“Watching a bull in musth over the two or three months he is in that state gives a good indication of why males are not in musth year-round.” – Cynthia Moss, Elephant Memories, 1988

About the Word:
Even more so than with symposium this word proves that there is often a great disconnect between a word’s etymology and its current meaning. Musth comes to English from the Hindi word mast (‘intoxicated’), and is akin to the Sanskrit madati (meaning ‘he rejoices, is drunk’), but we know that the enjoyment of alcohol needn’t occasion a murderous frenzy of sexualized excitement with brown stuff leaking from the eyes.

Dead Man
17 of the finest words for drinking deadman
Definition:: a bottle emptied of beer, wine, or liquor; also : an empty beer can

“There were the champagne flasks which poor Jake Belsize had emptied; the tall seltzer-water bottle, from which the gases had issued and mingled with the hot air of the previous night’s talk; glasses with dregs of liquor, ashes of cigars, or their black stumps, strewing the cloth; the dead men, the burst guns of yesterday’s battle.” – William Makepeace Thackeray, The Newcomes, 1855

About the Word:
Dead man (which has dead soldier as a sometime synonym) has been in use since at least the end of the 17th century, when it was recorded in the famous dictionary of slang A New Dictionary of the Canting Crew. Few writers have used this expression quite so eloquently as did Thackeray.

17 of the finest words for drinking glorious
Definition:archaic : hilariously drunk

About the Word:
The first four definitions of glorious found in Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged are all concerned with noble uses denoting splendor and beauty. The drunken meaning of the word is the final one and perhaps the most odd, since it raises the question of what exactly about the drunkenness is so funny. Glorious does not provide a quantitative assessment of drunk (such as ‘very’, or ‘almost’), but a qualitative one-hilariously.

Such words are of rare vintage, and should be savored.

Happy Hour


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