If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my time in the UK, it’s that, much as the Eskimos have many words for snow (or at least, so goes the cliché), the subjects of Queen Elizabeth II have come up with a delightful array of words describing that special, rosy feeling you get after having a drink or two (or more). As London gears up to host armies of summer visitors, it’s a perfect time to review the best British euphemisms -- ranked from gentlest to strongest -- for being intoxicated from a culture that has more then met the challenge of describing it.
If these aren’t enough for you, there are a multitude of British terms out there, each with their own flair for describing that special way alcohol makes us feel. In fact, the possibilities are potentially limitless:
Intoxication intensity: Low
Pleasantness for others: Lovely
Regrets tomorrow: Minimal
This mainstay of the English lexicon has been in use for over four centuries, the noun "tipple" describing a harmless amount of alcohol -- that pleasant glass of chard you weren’t planning on having with lunch. In its adjectival form, "tippled" best represents that pleasant feeling you get from finishing a drink (or two) after a long day at work.
Intoxication intensity: Mild
Pleasantness for others: Delightful
Regrets tomorrow: Depends on how good your liver is
Though the exact origin of "squiffy" is unknown, this Victorian-era word became associated with early 20th century Liberal Party Prime Minister Herbert H. "Squiffy" Asquith, who has been diplomatically characterized as having a "fondness for drink." This state best describes someone who can still stand up long enough to address the House of Commons.
Intoxication intensity: Fair
Pleasantness for others: Charmed
Regrets tomorrow: It’ll have been worth it
In many ways, this is the peak intoxication experience: deep in enough that you’re having a good time, but still able to remember your keys, your phone, and if you’re lucky, to drink a Lucozade and take a couple of aspirin before bed. If you’ve got rosy Santa-style apple cheeks popping, you’ve achieved prime merriness.
Intoxication intensity: Middling to high
Pleasantness for others: The neutral zone
Regrets tomorrow: Real but manageable
A gentle word used for gentlemen who might be wearing pinstripes and straw boaters, this one can be tough for Americans who usually think of having a drink as "getting loose." Great to have on hand if going for a cocktail in a private club or hotel bar.
Intoxication intensity: Definite
Pleasantness for others: Depends on their relative intoxication
Regrets tomorrow: Nothing an apologetic text can’t fix
The original meaning of this 14th-century word word had to do with pickling things, i.e., steeping them in brine, but it wasn’t until the 17th century that "soused" started meaning people steeping themselves in hooch. A great way to describe a night that you’re #sorrynotsorry about.
Out of sorts
Intoxication intensity: Oh, my, yes
Pleasantness for others: Hopefully not too bad?
Regrets tomorrow: Just don’t get locked out
A kind of Ronseal of intoxication terms, it does what it says on the tin: when you’re in this deep, you might have trouble remembering where you are, how to get home, or your friend’s new boyfriend’s name, and accidentally call them by the old one’s name. Most often used in appraising one’s behavior the morning after: "I was really out of sorts last night."
Intoxication intensity: Yup.
Pleasantness for others: Unless you were significantly worse off than everyone else, you were probably all right
Regrets tomorrow: Standard set
A tough one for Americans who, upon first hearing it, might think you got really angry last night, instead of just having one pint too many. Accompany this term with an intensifier as needed: absolutely pissed, utterly pissed, unbelievably pissed.
Intoxication intensity: A 2-1, just shy of distinction
Pleasantness for others: Surely you must be joking
Regrets tomorrow: Mostly will consist of derisively raised eyebrows
Characterised by the extent to which one becomes increasingly obnoxious -- i.e., a wanker -- with a corresponding rise in blood alcohol level. Gets used frequently in a self-deprecating manner as a prophylactic against anything hideous you might have said to your best mate’s girl.
Off their face
Intoxication intensity: Rather
Pleasantness for others: Pityingly amused
Regrets tomorrow: I should think so
We’re starting to get into the deeper end of the liquor pool (I figure that had to be a thing somewhere) and this is as good a place as any to dive in. A delightful expression to say, though a tricky one to pull off without too much self-recrimination the next day. People who are off their face generally try and pawn off liability for their actions onto the drink.
Intoxication intensity: Very
Pleasantness for others: PARTY
Regrets tomorrow: What goes up must come down
More favored in the North, this term beautifully captures the kinetic heat-energy of drinking, that warm feeling in the face we get when we’re feeling aaaaaaalllll right. Usually, this describes that state of emboozement when we’ve left behind any pretense of politesse or tact. The phrase "I love you, man," is a good sign that someone has achieved steaming status.
Intoxication intensity: Open throttle
Pleasantness for others: Who gives a shit?
Regrets tomorrow: The hangover will blot out specifics
A variation on the above, but with a little more industry to it -- I like to think of the way large ships can only steer very slowly. This is how liquored you’d need to be to confess to that friend of yours that you’ve had a secret crush on them for months or years. Don’t worry, you probably won’t remember having done so in the morning.
Intoxication intensity: Asleep on the sofa
Pleasantness for others: Depends who owns the sofa
Regrets tomorrow: You will wake up on the sofa
More traditionally used for marijuana-induced hazes, this describes that point in the evening where you just check the eff out. If you play your cards right, this happens on a comfortable chair in friendly territory. If you’re less fortunate, let’s just hope you wake up before your train gets to Cockfosters.
Intoxication intensity: So much for your body being a temple
Pleasantness for others: Un-
Regrets tomorrow: Many and various
Another fairly self-descriptive state of being, though often employed hyperbolically for effect, once you’ve generally stopped having fun and have started dialling A&E.
Intoxication intensity: NO YOU’RE AN ARSEHOLE
Pleasantness for others: YEAH AND YOUR MUM TOO
Regrets tomorrow: I’LL TELL YOU WHO’S GOING TO HAVE REGRETS
You’re no longer fun to anyone, except for others who are similarly arseholed, in which case you all will be KINGS OF THE BLOODY WORLD until you run out of steam and/or get picked up by the local authorities.
Intoxication intensity: Full
Pleasantness for others: Nil
Regrets tomorrow: All
Just like the above, but with the added flair of rats.
Intoxication intensity: Fucked
Pleasantness for others: Fuck you
Regrets tomorrow: Fuck me
For my money, this is as bad as it gets before things stop needing amusing colloquialisms to describe them and start needing attorneys to fend off criminal and civil penalties (or, for that matter, doctors to help with medical remedies). Still, a preferred term for some, which I’ve always found ironic, since this state is synonymous with what many of us hope for by the end of the night. Ah, the English language!
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