Grab your drink of choice and join us as we look back on some of the best words for drunkards from history.
1. He’s biggy
Here’s the thing: We’ve been getting drunk since the stone age. (We as in “humans,” not necessarily we as in the Dictionary.com staff.) Why? Well for one thing, it’s fun. For another, it’s a communal, social activity, and we (as humans) like that kind of thing.
Maybe, that’s why there are more words out there for being intoxicated than there are for being sober. That and the fact intoxication lends itself to way more hilarity than soberness does, and that hilarity is often aimed at the drunkards themselves. Even Ben Franklin got in on this fun, he published “The Drinker’s Dictionary” in the Pennsylvania Gazette, listing over 200 euphemisms for drunkenness. It includes gems we should recirculate, like “He’s biggy,” “He’ll have frogs for supper,” and “He’s wise or otherwise.” Truly, an American hero.
Oferdrincere is an Old English word for “drunkard.” Note: Old English was spoken before 1000 AD, and it is extremely different from what we speak today.
In this case, though, you can tell what the meaning is by saying the word phonetically. Sounds sort of like “over-drinker,” doesn’t it? Well, it should. The modern word drinker comes from the Old English word drincere. And, Ofer- was a prefix that meant “over” or “beyond.” So, to be a drunkard is to be an oferdrincere. To drink too much is to oferdrincan. Oferdruncan and oferdruncenness are both drunkenness.
It’s nice knowing that our linguistic drinking traditions have stayed so close to their roots over the centuries. Let’s move on before we oferdōn it.
A gulch is a deep, narrow ravine, especially one marking the course of a stream or torrent. It comes from the Middle English word gulchen, which meant “to spew forth,” and is related to both gush and gulp.
Gulchcup is from the 1200s, which was during the Middle English period, and has more to do with gulping booze than with ravines. It’s also a little onomatopoetic (gulch sounds like the sound someone makes while gulping).
A tippler is someone who tipples liquor, and this word dates back to the 1350s. To tipple is “to drink intoxicating liquor, especially habitually or to some excess.” It’s that or “to drink intoxicating liquor, especially repeatedly, in small quantities.” So, whether you’re going all out at a party or sneaking swigs from a “water” bottle, that’s tippling. Tipple can also mean “intoxicating liquor.”
OK, let’s get this straight: A tippler is someone who tipples tipple. Try saying that after a few drinks.
Lush is still used today as a softer-sounding word for a drunk person. Lush itself was coined in the 1400s, and it is related to the Middle English lusch, which meant “slack.” Lusch was also related to the Old English lysu, which meant “bad,” and lēas, which meant “lax.” It means “luxuriant, succulent, or tender and juicy.”
Lush wasn’t used as a term for drunk people until the late 1700s, though, and when it was, it was most likely a facetious take on the original meaning of the word.
But really, it’s pretty easy to imagine someone feeling relaxed and luxurious after a few glasses of good wine.
Winebibber is a word from the 1520s, and it means almost exactly what it sounds like: “a person who drinks much wine.”
Bibber is also a word from the 1500s, which means “a steady drinker” (like a tippler). The root, bib, comes from the Middle English bibben (meaning “to drink”), which itself comes from the Latin bibere (same thing). And yes, it is related to that cloth you wrap over a baby’s chest to protect their clothing while they eat or drink.
So, if you drink too much wine, that makes you a winebibber. The question is: Do you also need a wine-bib to protect your clothes? Probably.
Imagine being so drunk you’re flailing your cup or bottle around in irregular, careless motions. Or, throwing it. We’re not saying that’s ever happened to us at a Dictionary.com happy hour . . . , but that’s the image a word like tosspot conjures, doesn’t it?
Tosspot comes to us from the late 1500s. Back then, it may have described the above, or it may have been more related to “tossing off a drink.” Or “tossing up” after a drink, depending what kind of night it was.
Boozer is still pretty commonly used today, but did you know it was from the 1600s? Booze was a respelling of bouse, which was a word from the 1250s that meant “strong drink,” “a drinking bout,” or “to drink, especially to excess.”
Some things never change (except for spelling, but that takes an extremely long time to happen).
A toper is “a hard drinker or chronic drunkard.”
Here’s the story: In the 1640s, there was a word, tope, which meant “to drink alcoholic liquor habitually and to excess.” Tope came from a now-obsolete meaning for top, which was “to drink.” It’s related to top off, which came from tip off, which meant “to drink a full helping at a draught.”
Think of tipping the barrel or bottle to make sure you get every last ounce of liquor in there, and you’ll get the idea.
Groggy was first coined in 1760–70. Originally, it meant someone who had too much grog, which is a strong, (usually rum-based) drink.
Interestingly, the word grog also comes from the 1760s–70s. Old Grog was the nickname of a British Admiral who (in 1740) ordered a mix of rum, water, lemon, sugar, and spices to be served to his sailors instead of pure spirits. And, that’s how you go down in history.
This one is more euphemistic than some of the others we’ve mentioned. To be pixilated is to be slightly eccentric or amusingly whimsical—like a pixie. The word is either a portmanteau of pixie and titillated or an adaptation of pixie-led.
In the 1840s, getting pixilated basically meant turning into a happy, fun, drunk. (It’s not related to pixels on your screen, and may or may not be related to chasing a certain green fairy.)
A tipsificator is “someone who drinks to excess,” and it is also a word you should try saying a few drinks deep. While tipsificator is a word from the 1870s, it most likely came from tipsy, which is a 1570s word that we still use today (and yes, it’s related to tipple, too).
Trends really do come back around in cycles.
A barfly is a person who frequents bars, but you probably guessed that one. The word comes from 1905, and it is still widely-used today.
This sense of fly is most likely related to phrases like “fly on the wall.” Or, it could be like that phenomenon where flies try to leave a room by repeatedly crashing into doors and windows. They keep trying to leave, but they just can’t seem to get out, so they just hang around. Then once they do get out, they somehow find their way back in.
Barflies can also be said to buzz with conversation, but maybe we’re stretching this too far.
To souse something is to plunge it into water or another liquid. It means to drench something or steep it in pickling brine. It also means “to soak,” like a sponge.
So of course, a souse (1910) is someone who’s absolutely soaked with booze (also like a sponge). That’s metaphorically or literally, since both can technically happen.
In the 1800s, dipsomaniac was actually a medical term for a number of issues we now know as alcoholism. The 1920s really did have a way of making light of serious issues.
A stumblebum is a clumsy, incompetent person. You can probably picture it just by hearing the word. In the 1930s and 1940s, this word also described a drunk person, “stumbling drunk” as we’d now say . . . since bum isn’t really that nice of a word anymore, guys.
Juice has been used as a slang term for alcohol since . . . forever. Head here means “a habitual user of.”
So, in 1950s slang, a juicehead was someone who had juice on their mind and their mind on sipping that [gin and] juice. It meant someone who drank that juice heavily and habitually. It also meant someone who should probably lay off the juice for a little while (too much juice can be dangerous).
And today, a juicehead can mean one who uses a different kind of liquid—the steroidal kind.
During the peace-and-love 1960s, there were two opposing themes going on among the hippies in particular. The first was that indulging in certain intoxicating substances was NBD. The second was that your body was a temple and you should be mindful of what you put into it.
Wasted (as in “overcome by the influence of alcohol or drugs”) comes from the latter of those stances. It’s the idea that you’ve indulged too much and now you’re useless. What a waste.
A hairball is a ball of hair accumulated in the stomach of a cat (as a result of licking its coat) that the cat typically spits back up. It’s really gross and annoying to have to deal with.
Yet, aound the 1970s–1980s, hairball also meant “a noisy, destructive drunk.” That version is also gross and annoying to deal with. So, moral of the story: Don’t be a hairball; drink responsibly.