Whether we like it or not, drinking has always been a significant part of American culture. It is responsible for every hilarious sitcom storyline (need I mention Ross and Rachel’s Vegas wedding?), wriggling its way into our culture right down to our vocabulary. While some may argue that America’s intimate relationship with bars and toilet bowls (late night conversation topics include “I’m never drinking again” and “why, body, why?!”) began after the Prohibition Era, others, including Benjamin Franklin, think otherwise. In an article published in 1737, the Founding Father listed over 50 different ways to say “drunk.” Though some, like “tipsy” and “inebriated,” have remained in our vocabulary to this day, other, more creative terms have fallen out of use:
Normally, “top-heavy” makes me think of precariously perched ice cream scoops. When paired with alcohol, though, all I can picture is a montage of people face-planting at the bar or into plates of food. Could that be what Ben meant when he penned this list back in the 1700s? Maybe, but he won’t be able to take credit when I turn this idea into a brilliant viral video.
2) He is feeling his oats.
I suspect this phrase became synonymous with “drunk” after too many people decided to use a late night bowl of oatmeal as a pillow. Or perhaps the association occurred when one inebriated writer, on a hunt for a writing utensil, had decided that the cupboard was too logical a place for his quill to be hiding and that a bowl of oats was more likely, forcing him to stick his hands in his dinner. Or maybe someone saw a baby splashing around in a bowl of oats like a sandbox and likened him to a drunkard. To be honest, I’m not really sure, but I’m sure having fun imagining the possibilities.
3) Can’t see a hole in a ladder.
There’s “regular drunk” and then there’s “can’t see a hole in a ladder drunk,” which is, I think, the stage right before alcohol poisoning or karaoke sing-offs. I’m no expert, but anyone that looks at a ladder and sees a solid block of wood needs to cut back on their alcohol intake, or at least see an eye doctor.
4) He is as drunk as a boiled owl.
This phrase is unsettling, for (hopefully) obvious reasons. How does one know what a boiled owl acts like, anyway? Probably the same twisted person that knows “more than one way to skin a cat.” Unless “boiled” is a synonym for drunk too, in which case, a boiled owl becomes a significantly more entertaining (and less traumatizing) image.
5) He had a bird.
While we’re on the subject of birds, let’s just talk about this one for a second. Here we are in 2014 talking about the future of climate change and best iPhone emojis while we could be talking about the magical quality of alcohol in the 1700s. Why are we settling for wine that gets us a bit light-headed and giggly when we could be drinking wine that would potentially give us the ability to birth a penguin or an ostrich? I mean, we’ve been sitting on this information for 200 years and no one has ever mentioned the existence of a magical, alcoholic elixir. I question this country’s leadership, sometimes.
Jiggered, I’m guessing, is what people said when they tried to drunkenly twerk on the beach, long before LMFAO introduced “wigga wigga wigga wigga wigga.” If not that, then it refers to a drunk person who tried to do a jig but ended up stumbling back and forth a couple of times instead. They tried to jig. They jiggered. It’s obvious, really.
7) He fell from grace.
I hate public drunkenness as much as the next person, but this phrase seems a bit extreme. Someone who drinks does not “fall from grace.” An angel who tells everyone in heaven that “Satan is pretty chill” has fallen from grace. There’s a difference.
8) He has a bee on his bonnet.
The natural reaction of anyone who finds a bee on their bonnet would be to start flailing around and screaming, so I can understand why someone would use this phrase to describe a drunk. However, what I don’t understand is why a man was wearing a bonnet to begin with. I’m totally fine with it, I just want to know the context because it sounds like the start of a new, fun nursery rhyme.
9) He has been measuring sidewalks upside-down.
Only a drunk person would realize that sidewalks are an under-appreciated area of study and decide to investigate. I can only hope that Benjamin Franklin was that person, because the image of Ben Franklin doing a handstand on a ruler (or however else someone would measure the sidewalk upside-down) is comedic gold.
As much as I hate the word booze, “boozy” has a nice, classy ring to it that beats other modern-day terms like smashed, buzzed, or slizzered. (Sorry Kesha.)
What’s your favorite vintage word for drunk?