The New England colonists drank quite a lot of alcohol. Sometimes they drank it morning, noon and night. It wasn’t uncommon for them to start the day with a nip to get rising. John Adams, in fact, had a mug of hard cider for breakfast. Tradesmen and farmers might drink beer all day long. And ladies and gentlemen from the highest to the lowest could end the day with a few pops. So it’s no wonder there were so many colonial era names for drunks.
Alcohol, many believed, was a good medicine, a reviver of spirits. It eased the strains and pains of the day. Even the strictest Puritans believed alcohol was a gift from God.
Drunkenness, on the other hand, was sinful.
Colonial Era Names for Drunks
Not surprisingly the language of the 1600s and 1700s is full of words to describe a drunk.
- Cut. Being Cut meant you were a little bit drunk. “I’m a little cut over the head,” for instance, meant slightly intoxicated.
- Drop in the eye. A drop in the eye meant you should probably ease off your drinking. Half Seas Over meant the same thing.
- Nazie. Nazie meant drunk and a Nazie Cove meant an habitual drunkard. An Old Soaker described a constant drunk, as did Swill Tub or Toss Pot.
- Cropsick. When alcohol started to overwhelm you, people called you Cropsick. The term also described a queasy stomach brought on by booze.
- Clipping. If you clipped the King ’s English, you slurred your words due to drunkenness.
- Clear. If someone said you were Clear, they meant you were passing out drunk. A Clear fellow was an easy target for a thief or a pickpocket.
- Surveyor of the Highways. A Surveyor of the Highways was a person who was a reeling, staggering drunk. If you were Mauled, you were also very drunk.
Better Choice than Flaud
- Choice Spirit. A choice spirit was a happy, singing, merry drunk. Maudlin drunk, meanwhile, meant alcohol had put you in a sorrowful state.
- Ensign Bearer. An Ensign Bearer was a man whose face was flushed because he was drunk. Also a man who ‘has been In The Sun’ was a man who was red-faced from drink.
- Flaud, Flustered or Fuddled. All meant that you were just plain drunk. And a Fuddle Cap was a drunkard.
- Wrapped up in Warm Flannel. This expression meant you were a dozy and contented drunk.
- Admiral of the Narrow Seas. A man who got so drunk that he vomited on a person next to him was called an Admiral of the Narrow Seas. To Shoot the Cat, or simply Catting, also meant vomiting from excess alcohol. You were a Vice Admiral of the Narrow Seas if you peed into your neighbors shoes due to your drunkenness.
- Buy the Sack. If you planned to Buy the Sack it meant you intended to get drunk.
- Cagg. When you finally had enough and pledged to give up the alcohol, you were said to have Cagged, as in: I’m putting myself on the Cagg for the next six months.
Thanks to: Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, By Francis Grose (1785) and Villainies Discovered: OR The Devil’s Cabinet Broken Open, By Richard Head (1673). This story was updated in 2021.