Ever thought about the number of phrases there are to describe someone who is drunk?
Some are obvious, if euphemistic. They describe the physical state of the person – tired and emotional, legless; or the location as a result of their intoxication – under the table*. Several are more specific, often begin with a ‘p,’ and not really suitable for a family blog.
Some words and phrases are clearly associated with imbibing more than is entirely good for us, but we don’t necessarily know why. We know, for example, that to be plastered is to have drunk more than we can properly handle, but not necessarily that the term came from plasterers using alcohol to stiffen their mix for plastering ceilings. After several hours of working close to the ceiling, breathing in the alcoholic fumes, they would descend from the scaffolding decidedly squiffy – in other words, plastered.
To be steaming, or the less well known steam boats, are terms for drunkenness that come from Scotland. At the turn of the twentieth century, day trips on paddle steamers became popular with working people who couldn’t afford holidays. On the ships, alcohol was readily available and many indulged, and were steaming by the time they returned to port. Later in the century, with cheap travel via the railways, and later via plane, becoming available, the fashion for steam boat jaunts declined. Not the fashion for overindulgence as a holiday pursuit, though, but I’ve jet to hear the term ‘easyjetting’ or ‘ryanairing’ to replace steaming.
Keeping with the nautical theme is the phrase three sheets to the wind (originally three sheets in the wind). A sheet is a cable, not a sail, and a tally of the number of sheets, was widely used by sailors to describe how drunk their shipmates were. Three sheets in the wind meant they were falling over drunk, but one sheet in the wind (or a sheet in the wind’s eye as Long John Silver says in Treasure Island) was to be merely tipsy.
*Talking of the term ‘under the table,’ I’m not that fussed on martini, but I do like
Dorothy Parker’s cautionary ditty re over-indulgence:
I like a drop of martini
Two at the very most
After three I’m under the table
After four I’m under my host.
And that’s it for this week. Cheers!
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