Drunken Adjectives: A Fuzzy Vine-acular



Are there really that many different descriptors for inebriation? What’s the origin of drunken euphemisms like “three sheets to the wind”? Why does our language go from getting hammered at college dorm parties to more mature sentiments like “feeling no pain”?

In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m sharing the interesting and surprisingly vast vocabulary that describes the things we do, say and feel when we’ve had a little too much.

You can find the wines we discussed here.



  • What descriptors for overindulgence might have you thinking of food instead?
  • How does our drunken behaviour lend itself to immature and animal-like labels?
  • Which more macabre adjectives might remind you of the excess that comes with college parties?
  • What old-timey predecessors can you find for these drunken adjectives?
  • How can you describe the more mellow inebriation you’ve matured into?
  • Would you find different descriptors for intoxication when it comes to women versus men?
  • What meaning do you find behind euphemisms from the past?
  • Which colourful phrases do other cultures and languages use to refer to intoxication?
  • What are some of the stories you’d find at the heart of our alcohol-rich language?


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Last night’s startling discovery: there are more adjectives for drunkenness than there are Inuit words for snow. And I’m not just talking about being intoxicated or inebriated, or even blotto, blasted or bombed.

There are well over 3,000 descriptors—just looking at the list makes me feel tipsy. What’s more interesting is the difference between the words used for men and women, young and old, bodily and behavioural effects—and how expressions vary across cultures and languages to reveal both positive and negative views.

This is exactly what you’ll discover in this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. Now I’m not encouraging over-sampling, but I find the language around it fascinating and often humorous. I mean just look at the titles of my two books:

Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass

Unquenchable: A Tipsy Search for the World’s Best Bargain Bottles

However, I do take alcoholism quite seriously. As I’ve mentioned previously, my father was an alcoholic — the disease runs in my family on both sides, but so does a love of language and learning. As Brendan Behan, writer at The New Yorker magazine said, “I’m a drinker with a writing problem.”

In the show notes, you’ll find the full transcript of this podcast, where you can find me on both Instagram and Facebook live every second Wednesday at 7 pm, and how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class — that’s all in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/110.

In the new year, I’ll be hosting virtual wine and chocolate pairing classes for several corporate groups and other organizations as it has a great tie-in with Valentine’s Day and attendees can participate at home with their loved ones. I’ll also be hosting wine and cheese tastings. If you’re interested in my doing this for your group, please email me at [email protected]. You’ll also find my contact in the show notes.

Okay, on with the show!


I had lots of help researching this subject from friends who came up with a bandwagon of terms. And contrary to what they suggested, simply being a wine writer of Scottish-Irish descent does not make me an automatic authority.

First, the cooking and baking category—words that describe the effect of drink on our internal organs as though they’re pot roasts (stewed, boiled, brewed, smoked, sauced, soaked, basted, boiled, fried), preserves (jarred, canned, corked, pickled, juiced, minced) or pastries (baked, pie-eyed, buttered, toasted).

Soused, for example, comes from seventeenth-century English, originally meaning “to marinate,” and is closely related to sozzled—“made moist.” So to be precise, we get sozzled before we get soused.

Other adjectives observe our behavior: drunks are childish (a bag of toys) or crazy: gone, gonzo, knackered, loopy, out of it, scattered, snappered, zoned, zonkers, zombied, cockeyed, comatose or just plain stupid.

(And yet to use the definition of any one of these words sounds odd, as in “I’m going to drink myself into a low level of intelligence tonight.”)

Drinking brings out our animal nature, making us drunk as a skunk, weasel-eyed, ratted, zoo’d, ripped as a newt, boiled as an owl, howling, hog- whimpering or roaring drunk.

Those of us who drank too much at college dorm parties may also recall the extreme adjectives, even murder metaphors, of our youth—and indeed we probably did kill off parts of our brains and livers.

They were generally grouped by method: sharp instrument (half-cut, ripped, let her rip, screwed), blunt instrument (hammered, smashed, whammed, slammed, stoned, ossified), poison (polluted, gassed, trashed), electrocution (wired, buzzed, zapped, blistered), hanging (tied one on, looped, strung out, twisted) and car accident (not firing on all cylinders, well-oiled, shellacked, lubricated, pumped up, totaled, mashed, wrecked).

Then there was injury or death from no apparent cause (done in, ruined, obliterated, decimated, paralytic, legless, blind drunk, dead drunk).

From fighting, we get thrashed, lashed, wasted and clobbered. Spifflicated—“given a thorough thrashing and overcome completely”—comes from the eighteenth-century English combination of stifle and suffocate.

In 1818, Sir Thomas Moore wrote, “Alas, alas, our ruins’s fated, all done up and spifflicated.”

Now that we’ve matured, most of us prefer to get mellow rather than mangled—enjoying that drowsy sunlit windowsill feeling. The adjectives, too, are more genteel: sociable, feeling no pain, woozy, have a glow on, over-refreshed, euphoric, afflicted.

Women are more euphemized than men: we’re tipsy, in our cups, tiddly or whiffled—as if we’ve been tippling with Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby. But real men get tight, lagered or liquored up.

Celebrities are never more than “tired and emotional”—presumably needing rest at a rustic Betty Ford resort. But working-class adjectives sound as though we’re doing home renovations or landscaping: plastered, pasted, lamped, lit, well-irrigated, hosed, ploughed.

Some expressions are easily understood: wearing your wobbly boots, having a close look at the footpath, under the table, full of loud-mouth soup or predicting earthquakes. But others seem to come from another time.

Three sheets to the wind is a nineteenth-century naval phrase: sheets are what landlubbers like me would call ropes and they control the sails. “Three sheets to the wind” means that those ropes weren’t tied down but left flapping, hence “to the wind.”

To be half in the bag (nearly drunk) or in the bag (fully drunk), may be either a shortened version of the breathalyzer bag or simply a bag holding (and concealing) the booze.

Going on a bender referred both to the crooked way a drunk walks. Got a jag on means drinking to excess; but a jag is also used for other types of emotional breakdowns, such as a crying jag.

Drunk as blazes is a corruption of the 1860 drunk as blaziers, after the participants in a feast in honor of St. Blaize.

But perhaps more revealing is to look across cultures and languages. My French-speaking friends insist that there aren’t nearly as many words for drunk in their own language because in their culture, they grew up with alcohol as something to be enjoyed in moderation rather than forbidden.

Nevertheless, the French say Il est paqueté (literally, he’s parceled up, bagged) or bourré (stuffed or loaded).

There’s Si ma mère m’avait donné du lait comme ça, je serais encore avec elle. (If my mother had given me milk like this, I’d still be with her) and Il boirait la mer et les poissons (He would drink the whole ocean, along with the fish).

Another expression must be accompanied by the appropriate gesture: someone says Je suis completement (I am full) or Plein comme un oeuf (full like an egg), then makes a fist, brings the thumb and forefinger to his nose and makes an unscrewing motion.

In Spanish, they talk about catching a hake or a cigala (large crayfish) in an ocean of fish. A borracho is a drunk.

The Japanese say getting yoed (having one too many) or chidori ashi (drunks who walk like a bird called chidori, which scampers right and left, never in a straight line).

In Germany they say Ich bin blau (I am blue) or Ich habe einen schwips, which means I have a schwips, both onomatopeic (drunken speech is often bubbly) as well as related to one of the German words for hiccup.

Shickered, which conveniently rhymes with liquored, is Australian slang for intoxicated. It comes from the early twentieth-century Yiddish shiker, a drunk.

And some folks use Adrian Quist, the Australian tennis champ from the 1960s, because it rhymes with I’m pissed. (Which brings to mind the entire scabrous family of adjectives: stinko, shit-faced and crapulous.)

Latin doesn’t just give us In vino, veritas (in wine, the truth—as in a few glasses will get anyone talking freely) but also Plures crapula quam gladius (Drunkenness kills more than the sword).

In Austria, they say, “Er hat zu tief ins Glas geguckt.” (He looked too deeply into his glass). In Russia, “Let’s have a drink, even if it’s just Paulina Ivanovna.” (Paulina Ivanovna is a brand of furniture polish consumed by drunks for its alcohol content—others use the phrase to mean a simple drink, nothing fancy.)

A friend’s late grandfather used to own a pub in Ireland. According to him, his grandfather was the quintessential Irish publican: the local moneylender, church usher, political organizer and boozehound.

Every couple of months, he’d hire a barkeeper for three or four days and announce that he was going on his holidays. The journey entailed him wobbling over to the other side of the bar and staying there for the duration.

While on these holidays, none of the regulars would talk to him about money, business or politics. That phrase became part of the local vernacular—and holidays were taken every couple of months for sixty glorious years.

Another story says that in Dublin pubs, the bartender would try to calm everyone by telling them to “mind their Ps and Qs”—P stood for pint and Q for quart. Others claim that regulars would admonish the barman with those words, to make sure that he tallied their bill correctly—and didn’t charge them for a quart when they only drank a pint.

Still, yet another origin story says that this advice was to printers’ apprentices to avoid confusing the backward-facing metal type lowercase Ps and Qs, or the same advice to children who were learning to write.

Regardless, they all ended up at the pub after a long day (well, except the children). And apparently there used to be whistles on the tops of the beer mugs—when you wanted a refill, you would blow your whistle or wet your whistle.

The English language is a living thing if the number of new words to describe modern-day drunkenness is any indication. There’s Merl Haggarded, after the king of mournful country-western drinking songs and Moulin Rouged from the musical movie about booze-soaked Bohemian Paris in 1900.

The high-tech crowd gives us rendered and pixilated. In western Canada, they talk about being Campbelled or inKleined to have one too many, after the drinking exploits of the premiers of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell, and Alberta, Ralph Klein.

The range of words we use to describe excessive drinking is unmatched by those for overeating, exercising or even copulating.

Perhaps that’s because getting loaded hits our sensory circuits like nothing else: not only are we full of alcohol, but we’re also full of the loudest laughter, the biggest gestures, the tenderest sympathies, the grandest schemes and the blackest rages. (And the next morning, the deepest regrets.)

Yet when most of us are obliviated, we’ve lost the nuances of diction and etymology to describe how we’re feeling—or we’re in denial: “I’m not affluenced by incohol at all.”


I hope you enjoyed this episode!

In the show notes, you’ll find the full transcript of this podcast, where you can find me on both Instagram and Facebook live every second Wednesday at 7 pm, and how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class — that’s all in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/110.

If you’re interested in my hosting a wine and cheese or chocolate tasting for your group, please email me at [email protected]. You’ll also find my contact in the show notes.

You won’t want to miss next week when I’m chatting with Karen King about delicious icewine cocktails. She joins me from the Icehouse Winery in Niagara.

In the meantime, if you missed episode 2, go back and take a listen. I talk about the buzz of wine and its allure. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.

If you liked this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in the fuzzy vine-acular of alcohol.

Thank-you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps a wine to sip slowly rather than to gulp!