While previously writing about Benjamin Franklin’s interest in food, I remembered a piece which, far from simply being mentioned in passing, deserves its own article. In the 6 January 1737 edition of his newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Franklin published ‘The Drinkers Dictionary’: a list of 228 different phrases for ‘being drunk’, known to be circulating in taverns at the time. Have a read!


Nothing more like a Fool than a drunken Man.          Poor Richard

‘Tis an old Remark, that Vice always endeavours to assume the Appearance of Virtue: Thus Covetousness calls itself Prudence; Prodigality would be thought Generosity; and so of others. This perhaps arises hence, that, Mankind naturally and universally approve Virtue in their Hearts, and detest Vice; and therefore, whenever thro’ Temptation they fall into a Practice of the latter, they would if possible conceal it from themselves as well as others, under some other Name than that which properly belongs to it.

But DRUNKENNESS is a very unfortunate Vice in this respect. It bears no kind of Similitude with any sort of Virtue, from which it might possibly borrow a Name; and is therefore reduc’d to the wretched Necessity of being express’d by distant round-about Phrases, and of perpetually varying those Phrases, as often as they come to be well understood to signify plainly that A MAN IS DRUNK.

Tho’ every one may possibly recollect a Dozen at least of the Expressions us’d on this Occasion, yet I think no one who has not much frequented Taverns would imagine the number of them so great as it really is. It may therefore surprize as well as divert the sober Reader, to have the Sight of a new Piece, lately communicated to me, entitled

The DRINKERS DICTIONARY.

A

He is Addled,
He’s casting up his Accounts,
He’s Afflicted,
He’s in his Airs.

B

He’s Biggy,
Bewitch’d,
Block and Block,
Boozy,
Bowz’d,
Been at Barbadoes,
Piss’d in the Brook,
Drunk as a Wheel-Barrow,
Burdock’d,
Buskey,
Buzzey,
Has Stole a Manchet out of the Brewer’s Basket,
His Head is full of Bees,
Has been in the Bibbing Plot,
Has drank more than he has bled,
He’s Bungey,
As Drunk as a Beggar,
He sees the Bears,
He’s kiss’d black Betty,
He’s had a Thump over the Head with Sampson’s Jawbone,
He’s Bridgey.

C

He’s Cat,
Cagrin’d,
Capable,
Cramp’d,
Cherubimical,
Cherry Merry,
Wamble Crop’d,
Crack’d,
Concern’d,
Half Way to Concord,
Has taken a Chirriping-Glass,
Got Corns in his Head,
A Cup too much,
Coguy,
Copey,
He’s heat his Copper,
He’s Crocus,
Catch’d,
He cuts his Capers,
He’s been in the Cellar,
He’s in his Cups,
Non Compos,
Cock’d,
Curv’d,
Cut,
Chipper,
Chickery,
Loaded his Cart,
He’s been too free with the Creature,
Sir Richard has taken off his Considering Cap,
He’s Chap-fallen.

D

He’s Disguiz’d,
He’s got a Dish,
Kill’d his Dog,
Took his Drops,
It is a Dark Day with him,
He’s a Dead Man,
Has Dipp’d his Bill,
He’s Dagg’d,
He’s seen the Devil.

E

He’s Prince Eugene,
Enter’d,
Wet both Eyes,
Cock Ey’d,
Got the Pole Evil,
Got a brass Eye,
Made an Example,
He’s Eat a Toad and half for Breakfast,
In his Element.

F

He’s Fishey,
Fox’d,
Fuddled,
Sore Footed,
Frozen,
Well in for’t,
Owes no Man a Farthing,
Fears no Man,
Crump Footed,
Been to France,
Flush’d,
Froze his Mouth,
Fetter’d,
Been to a Funeral,
His Flag is out,
Fuzl’d,
Spoke with his Friend,
Been at an Indian Feast.

G

He’s Glad,
Groatable,
Gold-headed,
Glaiz’d,
Generous,
Booz’d the Gage,
As Dizzy as a Goose,
Been before George,
Got the Gout,
Had a Kick in the Guts,
Been with Sir John Goa,
Been at Geneva,
Globular,
Got the Glanders.

H

Half and Half,
Hardy,
Top Heavy,
Got by the Head,
Hiddey,
Got on his little Hat,
Hammerish,
Loose in the Hilts,
Knows not the way Home,
Got the Hornson,
Haunted with Evil Spirits,
Has Taken Hippocrates grand Elixir.

I

He’s Intoxicated,
Jolly,
Jagg’d,
Jambled,
Going to Jerusalem,
Jocular,
Been to Jerico,
Juicy.

K

He’s a King,
Clips the King’s English,
Seen the French King,
The King is his Cousin,
Got Kib’d Heels,
Knapt,
Het his Kettle.

L

He’s in Liquor,
Lordly,
He makes Indentures with his Leggs,
Well to Live,
Light,
Lappy,
Limber.

M

He sees two Moons,
Merry,
Middling,
Moon-Ey’d,
Muddled,
Seen a Flock of Moons,
Maudlin,
Mountous,
Muddy,
Rais’d his Monuments,
Mellow.

N

He’s eat the Cocoa Nut,
Nimptopsical,
Got the Night Mare.

O

He’s Oil’d,
Eat Opium,
Smelt of an Onion,
Oxycrocium,
Overset.

P

He drank till he gave up his Half-Penny,
Pidgeon Ey’d,
Pungey,
Priddy,
As good conditioned as a Puppy,
Has scalt his Head Pan,
Been among the Philistines,
In his Prosperity,
He’s been among the Philippians,
He’s contending with Pharaoh,
Wasted his Paunch,
He’s Polite,
Eat a Pudding Bagg.

Q

He’s Quarrelsome.

R

He’s Rocky,
Raddled,
Rich,
Religious,
Lost his Rudder,
Ragged,
Rais’d,
Been too free with Sir Richard,
Like a Rat in Trouble.

S

He’s Stitch’d,
Seafaring,
In the Sudds,
Strong,
Been in the Sun,
As Drunk as David’s Sow,
Swampt,
His Skin is full,
He’s Steady,
He’s Stiff,
He’s burnt his Shoulder,
He’s got his Top Gallant Sails out,
Seen the yellow Star,
As Stiff as a Ring-bolt,
Half Seas over,
His Shoe pinches him,
Staggerish,
It is Star-light with him,
He carries too much Sail,
Stew’d
Stubb’d,
Soak’d,
Soft,
Been too free with Sir John Strawberry,
He’s right before the Wind with all his Studding Sails out,
Has Sold his Senses.

T

He’s Top’d,
Tongue-ty’d,
Tann’d,
Tipium Grove,
Double Tongu’d,
Topsy Turvey,
Tipsey,
Has Swallow’d a Tavern Token,
He’s Thaw’d,
He’s in a Trance,
He’s Trammel’d.

V

He makes Virginia Fence,
Valiant,
Got the Indian Vapours.

W

The Malt is above the Water,
He’s Wise,
He’s Wet,
He’s been to the Salt Water,
He’s Water-soaken,
He’s very Weary,
Out of the Way.

The Phrases in this Dictionary are not (like most of our Terms of Art) borrow’d from Foreign Languages, neither are they collected from the Writings of the Learned in our own, but gather’d wholly from the modern Tavern-Conversation of Tiplers. I do not doubt but that there are many more in use; and I was even tempted to add a new one my self under the Letter B, to wit, Brutify’d: But upon Consideration, I fear’d being guilty of Injustice to the Brute Creation, if I represented Drunkenness as a beastly Vice, since, ’tis well-known, that the Brutes are in general a very sober sort of People.

[Note: I have seen ‘The Drinkers Dictionary’ in various sources and have taken this from the archives at The History Carper, making minor corrections using the version found in Shaun Usher’s 2014 book, Lists of Note.]


We can easily recognise certain signs of drunkenness: ‘he sees two Moons’ and ‘seen a Flock of Moons’ link nicely to the whole phenomenon of seeing double. There are words which almost appear to be forerunners – ‘hammerish’ for instance, of the modern ‘hammered’ – and those still in use, like ‘tipsey’ and ‘intoxicated’. In the 15th century, if something was ‘intoxicate’, it contained poison or was made poisonous; the verb ‘intoxicate’ meant ‘to poison’. The sense of ‘making someone drunk’ has its first written evidence around the end of the 16th century.

The_Pennsylvania_Gazette_-_1729-9-25_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_20203The Pennsylvania Gazette: Page One of the first copy printed after Franklin took over publication in 1729. Located via Wikimedia Commons. The featured image for this article is taken from Flickr user Rhys A. The quotation ‘Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants to see us happy’  is popularly attributed to Franklin, but there is no evidence to indicate that it originated with him.

Some terms are very culturally specific. ‘Been to Barbadoes’ reflects the island’s reputation as a colonial producer of rum from the 1640s onwards – several tourist websites celebrate it as the very ‘Birthplace of Rum’. ‘Been to France’ and ‘seen the French King’ paint images of the country’s lavish 18th century court lifestyle, something Franklin himself came to experience in later years. On the other hand, ‘Been at Geneva’ likely refers to ‘genever’ or ‘jenever’, the juniper-flavoured spirit from the Netherlands also known as ‘Dutch Gin’. ‘Genever’ comes from genièvre; ultimately iuniperus, Latin for ‘juniper’. ‘Geneva’ is a folk corruption of the word, and ‘gin’ is a shortened form. It seems that to have ‘been at Geneva’ is to have ‘been at the gin’.

gin-488184_1280‘Gin’ is the shortened form of ‘genever’, a juniper-flavoured spirit from the Netherlands. Image from Pixabay.

Looking at Biblical connections, someone who has ‘had a Thump over the Head with Sampson’s Jawbone’ will definitely have a splitting hangover: one equal in severity to superhuman Samson’s destruction of 1,000 Philistines using only a donkey’s jawbone in Chapter 15 of Judges. I assume that anyone ‘contending with Pharaoh’ is ready to take on the big man (and the universe in general) with full drunken overconfidence – here compared to Moses’ struggle against the Egyptian oppressor of his people in Exodus.

615px-061.Samson_Destroys_the_Philistines_with_an_Ass'_Jawbone‘Samson Destroys the Philistines with an Ass’ Jawbone’, as illustrated by Gustave Doré in Doré’s English Bible (1866). Located via Wikimedia Commons.

There are various nautical phrases collected under ‘S’: ‘seafaring’, ‘he’s got his Top Gallant Sails out’, ‘he carries too much Sail’, and ‘he’s right before the Wind with all his Studding Sails out’. These could be compared to the modern concept of having ‘three sheets to the wind’. As made clear on The Phrase Finder, ‘sheets’ are not sails, but ropes used to hold the sails in place. The image of a boat with sails out of control, tipping around as a drunken sailor might do, was in use during the 1800s.

drunk-sailors-32977_1280These drunken sailors are definitely ‘seafaring’. Image from Pixabay.

Some phrases are just plain strange. Where on earth did ‘nimptopsical’ come from? You tell me! ‘Oxycrocium’ was ‘a salve made with saffron’. Given that the original meaning of ‘plaster’ is a synonym for ‘salve’, The Drunktionary has suggested that ‘oxycrocium’ might be an elaboration on ‘plastered’. However, the use of ‘plastered’ in this sense is only recorded from 1912 onwards. While ‘plastered’ may have come about from the medical definitions of ‘plaster’ –  to ‘apply a remedy to’ or ‘to soothe’ – ‘oxycrocium’ could be an unrelated earlier word which conveys the same idea and was included in the dictionary for its curious spelling. My favourite is ‘he sees the Bears’, which sounds like the furry equivalent of Dumbo’s ‘Pink Elephants’ scene. Much like that mildly terrifying animated sequence, it is probably more suited to standing for a drug-induced trip than drinking too much – much like ‘eat Opium’.

BearStarting to see the bears. Or at least one of them. Image from Flickr user beadyface.

While Franklin published the work, there is some debate as to whether he was the author. Even so, ‘The Drinkers Dictionary’ doesn’t fail to entertain, with terms from the familiar to the downright bizarre.