Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Drunk on Euphemisms

When I'm looking for rare euphemisms to include in this column, I don't turn to drink, but I do turn to Drunk: The Definitive Drinker's Dictionary. Paul Dickson's amazing collection of 2,964 terms for being tipsy, lubricated, guzzled, or uncorked is a euphemism-palooza.

In past columns, I've looked at terms from Dickson such as circling over Shannon and admiral of the narrow seas, but his unique lexical brew deserves a longer sip. In the spirit of columns on the Dictionary of American Regional English and Green's Dictionary of Slang, here's an all-Drunk euphemism roundup that's sure to impress the folks at your local microbrew, bistro, pub, or AA meeting.

wearing the wobbly boots

This reference to the stagger of a boozehound is one of many terms for inebriation that refer to the challenges of walking while tipsy, such as legless. Another allusion to the drunk's unsure walk offers an apt assessment of alcohol's influence on the ol' thinkbone: zombified.


I assume this involves bourbon but not, I pray, falling into the fryer at KFC.

elevated with the juice of the grape

This lofty expression was coined by Charles Beauclerk in Nell Gwynn: Mistress to a King, and I feel it elevates this column with the juice of poetry. The drunk lexicon is such a pleasure because it runs the gamut of expressiveness in English, from the hoity-toity-ness of elevated with the juice of the grape to the blunt humor el whappo'd. Other wine-centric euphs include in the grip of the grape, smitten by the grape, and out nibbling the grape.

lit up like a kite

Lit up is itself a term for sauced, and there are extensions aplenty, including lit up like a ballroom, carnival ride, cathedral, Christmas tree, firefly, lantern, lighthouse, store window, skyscraper, Star of Bethlehem, and a honky-tonk on a Saturday night. As often as drinkers are said to be lit up, they are referred to as full. Dickson writes that the term full of loudmouth soup was the winner of a contest conducted by BBC correspondent Tom Morton in 2008. That phrase has many cousins, such as full as a bull, lord, goose, pot, pig's ear, and tick on a fat cow.

Jumbo's trunk

The origin of the phrase lies with a story about Winston Churchill as a teenager. The future prime minister was so sauced on mead he attempted to shove a blueberry scone down the trunk of a sleeping elephant in the London Zoo.

Jumbo's truck, addendum

I wish that were true. Alas, Jumbo's trunk is merely British rhyming slang for drunk.

jober as a sudge

This is a spoonerism that I imagine was coined in a state of joberness.


The Oxford English Dictionary also records this one, which is defined as "Drunken, intoxicated; given to, characterized by, or proceeding from drunkenness; intoxicating." This 1804 use shows its metaphorical reach: "Sooner..Than I, to frenzy temulent, with love, False to its palpitating precepts prove." The OED also records variations such as temulentious, temulentive, temulently, and temulentness. If this word caught on today, it would be more likely to spawn variations such as temulent-y and temulent-pocalypse.

drunk like Sinatra

Many terms reference a famous lush, like this reference to ol' blue eyes. Hoist enough pints and you might also find yourself Jan Michael Vincented, Jimi Hendrixed, or Boris Yeltsined. My favorite use of a name in Drunk comes from a fictional character: la femme drunkita.

drive the porcelain bus

This refers to the vomitastic aftereffects of drinking, though I find it less respectful than praying to the porcelain god. Another toilet-centric term recorded by Dickson is porcelain-ready.

done a Falstaff

This Shakespearean reference to literature's jolliest buffoon lends credence to my theory that Falstaff is the Rosa Parks of alcoholic characters who provide comedy relief. Another Shakespearean term describes an alky as Tight as Andronicus.

daffy with sentimental water

If you've ever known a drinker who said things like "I love you, man" and "When this all gets sorted out, I think you and me should get an apartment together!" you'll appreciate the linking of inebriation and sentimentality.

For more Drunk-ology, you'll have to buy the book, which goes for about the price of a martini but lasts so much longer. You don't need to be zambonied, materially altered, not in Kansas anymore, guarding the gates of hell, gazumped, or accidentally horizontal to enjoy it. I guarantee you'll love this book whether you're stone-cold sober or out in left field with a catcher's mitt on.

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Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore." Click here to read more articles by Mark Peters.

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Comments from our users:

Thursday August 2nd 2012, 11:18 AM
Comment by: Nancy FriedmanVisual Thesaurus Contributor
I'd never heard "done a Falstaff," but immediately upon reading that phrase I remembered Falstaff beer, which was named for the Shakespearean character. The brand was discontinued in 2007; there's an affectionate tribute site here: http://www.falstaffbrewing.com/
Thursday August 2nd 2012, 3:01 PM
Comment by: Cody (Eugene, OR)
I thought I knew quite a number of euphenisms for being drunk, but most of these are new to me! (In my family, nobody was "lit up" as anything, they were simply "lit.") Thanks much to Nancy Friedman for the link to the Falstaff Brewing tribute site. Fun!
Thursday August 2nd 2012, 11:22 PM
Comment by: Victor G. (Vancouver Canada)
I've never heard "Praying to the porcelain god." I don't think anyone recovering from the effects of a binge would say that. They'd be too paranoid. I've heard "Worshipping at the porcelain altar." Which is still irreverent, but less sacrilegious.
Tuesday August 7th 2012, 9:18 AM
Comment by: Paul D. (Garrett Park, MD)
Paul Dickson here. First, Thanks Mark for a fine piece. Second, a new slightly expanded (including a term from Thomas Jefferson)version of Drunk out this fall from Melville House re-titled "Intoxerated". The word is mine and the only ringer in the book. It is a blend intoxicated + inebriated. Am finishing new book Words from The White about words coined or made popular by US presidents which will be out in time for the Inaugural. Some real surprises--"iffy" (FDR), "War room" (McKinley) etc. Stay tuned.

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