12 September 2014

Words meaning "intoxicated"

The history of drinking vocabulary is an exercise in semantics rather than sociolinguistics. Terms for being drunk can’t usually be explained by referring to such variables as age, gender, social class, occupation, or regional background. Being drunk cuts across barriers. The list below shows only the occasional indication of a class preference (such as genteel whiffled vs thieves' cant suckey), and occupational origins are seen only in some nautical expressions (three sheets, oversparred, up the pole, tin hat, honkers), though the etymology is not always definite. There are very few formal terms in the list, apart from a few expressions fostered by the law (intoxicated, over the limit), and some early scholarly words (inebriate(d), temulent, ebrious). Local regional variations are sometimes apparent, such as from Scotland (fou, strut, swash, blootered, swacked), England (bottled, pissed, rat­arsed), and Australia (blue, rotten, shickery, plonked, on one’s ear); and since the eighteenth century most new words in this semantic field have started out in the United States. But it’s rare to find a word that stays in one country for long, and these days online slang dictionaries have largely broken down geographical boundaries....

There seems to be a universal trend to avoid stating the obvious. To describe someone as simply drunk, in drink, or in liquor is accurate but evidently uninspiring. One fruitful vein is to find terms that characterize drunken appearance (owl­eyed, pie­eyed, cock­eyed, lumpy, blue, lit) or behaviour, especially erratic movement (slewed, bumpsy, reeling ripe, tow­ row, rocky, on one’s ear, zigzag, tipped, looped) or lack of any movement at all (stiff, paralytic). Another is mental state, such as being muddled (fuddled, muzzed, queer, woozy), elated (high­flown, wired, pixilated), or worn down (whittled, half­shaved, rotten, crocked, the worse for wear)....

These days, though, the leading question for the lexicologist has to be: what exactly is the lexicon of drink? Many of the words formerly associated with drinking are now associated with drugs, such as high, loaded, pie­eyed, piped, potted, wasted, and blasted. Often it is simply unclear, without further context, what state a person is in. Indeed, sometimes there is a three-way ambiguity, as a further meaning has emerged that is to do with neither alcohol nor drugs. If someone says they are zonked, are they drunk, high, or just tired out?
Further details at The New Republic.


  1. Was always partial to "Making a Virginia fence" myself. http://mentalfloss.com/article/29753/ben-franklins-200-synonyms-drunk

  2. I've always had a soft spot for "blotto."



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