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A word or two thousand on 'Drunk: The Definitive Drinkers Dictionary'

October 04, 2009|Carolyn Kellogg

Out this week, just in time for Octoberfest, is "Drunk: The Definitive Drinkers Dictionary." The book contains no fewer than 2,964 synonyms for "drunk." "The English language includes more synonyms for the word 'drunk' than for any other word," writes author Paul Dickson. He should know, being the Guinness World Records holder for cataloging synonyms such as "in his cups," "irrigated," "beer-soaked" and "casters up."

Several words and phrases for "drunk" come with literary pedigrees. "Up in his hat" appears in James Joyce's "Ulysses." Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" includes the colorful "drunk as seven earls jumping fences." P.G. Wodehouse popularized "blotto," which Edmund Wilson, in his 1927 "Lexicon of Prohibition," considered the drunkest of drunk. Shakespeare had many drunk words, including "fap" and "cashiered." "Sloppo," a rare term, is used by a character in Stephen King's "The Stand." Carl Hiaasen's "Double Whammy" includes the phrase "dog-sucking drunk." And in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," Daisy Buchanan is found "drunk as a monkey."

Jack London wrote a whole book on drinking -- 1913's "John Barleycorn: Mr. London's Graphic Story of Personal Experiences" -- in which he favored "jingled" for pleasantly buzzed. And the legendary L.A. Times columnist Jack Smith makes an appearance with "bosky"; he noted in a 1981 column, Dickson explains:

" . . . that his favorite word was bosky, meaning 'wooded or sylvan in the sense of a "bosky dell" '; he was quickly informed by a woman who wrote 'Regency Romances' that . . . bosky is defined as 'dazed, or fuddled; mildly drunk' and that many of the 'young nobles in Regencies are often a trifle bosky.' Smith's reaction was to like it all the more and it stood as his favorite word."

Some terms, such as "beer-goggled," come from the online Urban Dictionary and seem more tasteless than quaint -- but the now-charming "bosky" may have been crass in its day. If you've got a drunk synonym of your own, suggest it to the publisher, Melville House, at: http://drunkdictionary.word your-synonyms/#comments.

The book, which includes long stretches of unadorned lists of synonyms -- including "dipped in the wassail bowl" and "Count Drunkula" -- is illustrated by Brian Rea in sketches with an appropriately sideways sensibility. The image on the cover is of a plain bar stool, tipping over.

The stories give the dictionary its juice. Where else could we learn that 30 years after the term "plastered" entered the drunk lexicon, the Arizona Lath and Plaster Institute would protest the use of the term? "You don't say a person is 'shingled,' 'painted' or 'landscaped,' " the institute's executive secretary told the New York Times in 1956. "Then why say he is 'plastered'?" But as anyone with this book will be able to tell you, we do use "painted" to mean "drunk" too.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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