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From 'Blotto' To 'Betty Booped,' A Dictionary Of Drink

Sep 25, 2009 (All Things Considered)

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There are almost as many words for inebriation as there are recipes for mixed drinks. Author Paul Dickson presents 2,964 intoxicating euphemisms — including "eating dirt," becoming "Kentucky-fried" and going "off me pickle" — in his new book, Drunk: The Definitive Drinker's Dictionary.

As Dickson tells Madeleine Brand, there's a long history of men of letters creating lists of synonyms for getting "beer soaked."

"The first really great list of drunken terms — contemporary terms for drunk — [came from] Benjamin Franklin," Dickson says. "Franklin had a list of 228 terms in 1737."

Franklin's list was followed by similar tallies by Thomas Paine, Charles Dickens, Ambrose Bierce and Langston Hughes, among others. Two euphemisms that probably didn't make any of those earlier lists? "Feng schwasted" and "feng shuied," which Dickson describes as "the idea that someone has had too much to drink and maybe rearranged the furniture in their brain through drink."

Even if some of the terms in the book seem like they may have been made up on the spot, Dickson asserts that he only included terms that he was able to validate — either orally or in print. And, he adds, the book is not meant to be a celebration of drunkenness, which he calls "a huge social evil," so much as an exploration of language.

"If this creates one more drinking problem, I wouldn't even have thought about the book," he says. "But it's really sort of an inquiry into the way the language develops and the way that famous writers ... have to deal with this subject, and so they come up with ways to describe it."

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