Friday, May 16, 2014

Etymological Investigations: Drunk As A Skunk

A few Fridays ago we took a look at the origins of several terms for alcohol. In the midst of our research, we came across this fascinating article from Mental Floss, which discusses a dictionary of terms for "inebriated" that was published by Benjamin Franklin way back in 1737. It inspired us to look at the origins of a few of the dozens of modern synonyms for "drunk".

This guy doesn't look drunk to us!
We'll start with drunk, which is the past participle of the verb "drink". It has been used to mean "intoxicated" since at least the mid-14th century. It has been used in some interesting expressions over the years, from "drunk as a wheelbarrow" in the 1700s and "drunk as a lord" in the late 1800s to the more recent and amusing "drunk as a skunk". We're not exactly sure how wheelbarrows or skunks can get drunk, but we can certainly imagine that lords liked to drink.

One of our favorite terms, tipsy, actually dates back to the 1300s! It comes from the verb "tip," as in "knock down," which came into English from a Scandinavian language such as the Swedish word tippa

In the early 1900s, blotto appeared on the scene, related to the verb "blot," as in soaking up liquid.

We're sure you can guess what word hammered comes from. It has been a synonym for "drunk" since at least the 1980s.

Have you ever wondered about the phrase three sheets to the wind? It turns out that it's likely related to sailboats. Apparently, back in the 1800s sailors had a "drunkenness scale" involving the sails of the boat. You could be one, two or three "sheets to the wind," referring to a number of out-of-control sails flapping in the wind. Being "three sheets to the wind" was the highest point on the scale.

There are plenty of other synonyms for "drunk" out there for you to explore. There's violent-sounding terms like bombed, blasted, and blitzed, the somewhat amusing trolleyed, and the somewhat cute-sounding tiddly.

Did we leave out your favorite term for "drunk"? Let us know what it is in the comments below!