In Boozo Veritas # 10 by Teege Braune
A Lexicology of Boozing
Slang terms for drunkenness are as varied and colorful as anything else in the English language. The only actions that come close to warranting as many euphemisms as drinking are just as base and primitive: using the bathroom, fornicating, etc. The behaviors we are most ashamed of are the ones we need the greatest number of ways to avoid directly discussing, but unlike sex and pooping, activities typically done in private, drinking is usually a public endeavor. Furthermore, despite the fact that certain monkeys get intoxicated eating fermented fruit, drinking is the only one among these three Dionysian behaviors that didn’t predate civilization. We may feel shame associated with the disposal of waste or copulation because these things remind us that we are essentially the same as the animals to which we feel so superior. Drinking, on the other hand, is a voluntary activity that often ends with humans behaving with little more reason than dumb beasts.
Much of the lexicon of drunkenness is the same as that of physical collision. Drinking past the point of tipsy, you are likely smashed, hammered, bombed, plastered, or plowed. You could be “wasted” in much the same way as if you had been hit by a car. Does the word “tanked” refer to being run over or shot by an armored, military, all-terrain vehicle, or does it instead denote the feeling of being trapped inside a closed vat, one presumably filled to the brim with alcohol? In the nineteenth century when it was first used to describe drunkenness, “tanked” was most commonly slang for losing, often voluntarily, as in taking a dive, so “tanked” might be used as a term for drunkenness because it describes purposely failing in the same way drinking impairs one’s ability to do almost anything.
The word “ripped” is also interesting. The opposite of being crushed, it instead suggests the drinker is being torn apart. It makes me think of a drunk’s personality being split in two, ripped from their control, Dr. Jekyll taking a sip and becoming Mr. Hyde. The literal idea of being ripped creates an image that is almost more horrible than smashed. If forced to choose between medieval torture devices, would you rather be drawn and quartered or bludgeoned to death on the wheel? The point is why are so many alternative words for something we supposedly do for fun taken from violence, mutilation, and bodily harm. Is it because the sickness and hangovers associated with drunkenness can be so painful, or is there a deeper association, an implication that by drinking excessively we are violently being stripped of our humanity?
Rarely do we meet someone claiming to be “inebriated.” The technicality of such a word is counter-intuitive to the kind of sloppiness implied by it. If we aren’t killing ourselves getting smashed, we may use obscenities to describe our experience. One may be “fucked” or “fucked up,” but whether this refers to being aggressively copulated with or simply damaged is unclear. “Shit faced” is easy to understand, the implication being that one is such a mess she may as well have shit all over her face, but “shit housed” is more difficult to unravel and more delightful for that very reason. Drunkenness and profanity seem to go hand in hand. A drinker’s tendency to overuse profanity is a sign by which many bartenders assess a customer’s need to be caught off and called a cab. Language is the cornerstone of civilization. At some level of human degradation, language devolves into its filthiest most primitive form. In this situation, “fuck” is the most versatile word in English. It is a noun, verb, adjective, and an exclamation meaning almost nothing but “I”m here! Me!” or perhaps it is a contemporary way of saying, “Ugh!” the first word spoken by the first caveman capable of speech.
Thank god for the word “sloshed.” Of all the many terms for drunkenness we use in English slang it may be my very favorite. It is far more sophisticated than “fucked” and understated compared to intense and violent words like “hammered” and “ripped,” yet it retains a visceral drippiness that I love. One claiming to be sloshed can rise above her debased colleagues’. She isn’t faking her nature. Yes, she’s drunk alright: she may be sweaty, dizzy, stumble slightly as she walks, or slur her words, but as she peers through the foggy miasma of her intoxication, she doesn’t lose sight of what’s most important, that rare and precious gem that is humanity.
Teege Braune is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.