C19th Phrases for Drinking & Drunkenness

February may be the month of pancakes and love for some, but for others it marks the end of Dry January and a return to celebrating (almost) anything with a tipple or two (it’s Friday!) Most of us know drunkenness was a major social problem in the nineteenth century. Then, as now, people came up with a multitude of words and sayings to disguise what they were up to. Some were obvious, some were ingenious, and some were utter nonsense. In this month’s blog, I explore a small selection of these whilst raising a smile and (perhaps) a small drink of my own!


Altogethery. Refers to the redundancy of a drunken man to lounge himself.

Be-argered. An argumentative drunk person.

Been in the sun. Refers to the fact that being out in the sun and being drunk has the same effect on the face in that it turns it red.

Beer-bottle. A stout, red-faced man.

Beer-eater. Someone who more than just drinks beer but lives on it.

Bender. On a drunken spree. Those on the spree were usually sailors.

Billy born drunk. Someone who has been an alcoholic longer than they have been sober in the minds of their neighbours.

Booze-shunters. Beer drinkers. To 'shunt' in railway terms is 'to move from place to place.' Therefore, it's somewhat apt to describe the act of moving one's drink from the glass into one's mouth in this way.

(To) Cop a brewery. To get drunk.

Five or Seven. Referring to the penalty of either five shillings or seven days imprisonment for public drunkenness, it was a phrase used by the police and metropolitan magistrate Mr Hosack and became synonmous for someone who is drunk.

She’s been a good wife to him. A satirical term used to refer to a drunken woman rolling in the streets.

The following terms mean to be drunk:

Breath strong enough to carry coal.
(As a) Boiled Owl.

Shipwrecked. Used predominantly in London’s East End.
Soupy. Specifically drunk to sickness.
Up the pole.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are terms referring to those who abstained from alcohol:

Balloon-juice Lowerer. A teetotaller. Balloon-juice was soda water and “lowerer” was derived from “to lower” to mean “to swallow.”

Botany Beer Party. A meeting where no intoxicants were drunk.


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Alls. Waste pot at public houses. On all public-house pewter counters were holes the remnants of drinks were poured into. When someone received a “bad beer” they suspected it was the remnants or “alls” from the waste pot.

Allsopp. Short for Allsopp’s Pale Ale.

Apple-jack. Originating in America, this refers to a spirit distilled from cider or from the pulp of apples already pressed for cider.

Arf-an-arf. An abbreviation of half-and-half, it refers to the drink made from a mixture of half black beer and half ale.

Baby. A half bottle of soda.

Baby and Nurse. A half bottle of soda with two-penny worth of spirit in it.

Bag o’ Beer. Half of fourpenny porter and half of fourpenny ale.

Balloon-juice. Soda water, presumably derived from its gassy nature.

Barclay Perkins. A stout from the brewing firm Barclay, Perkins & Co.

Belly-washer. Originating in American saloons, it refers to lemonade or soda-water.

Bellywengins. A corruption of “belly vengeance,” it’s an insult to the beer brewed in the villages of Suffolk at the time.

Bit o’ blink. Rhyming slang for drink.

Bivvy. Beer.

Black Strap. Port wine.

Bone-clother. A port wine that was popularly thought to encourage muscle growth.

Booze. Intoxicants of all kinds, but particularly beer.

Man-killer. A term used by abstainers to refer to porter, stout, and cooper.

Materials. An evasive term for whiskey-punch.

Shant of bivvy. Pint of beer.

Shave. Drink.


The following words and phrases were used to refer to people, situations, and institutions beyond the literal acts of drinking and getting drunk, but which still have an indirect connection to alcohol.

Beer and Skittles. Pleasure.

Beerage. A satirical rendering of peerage to refer to the big brewery companies, chiefly Allsopp and Guinness.

Beer-juggers. Bar women.

Bever. A four o’clock stop on the road for a drink.

Black-bottle Scene. The act of throwing black beer bottles at obnoxious people.

Block a quiet pub. Stay a long time in a tavern.

Blood or beer. Used when challenging someone to a fight, it was a literal challenge to the defender to choose between shedding their blood (fighting) or buying the challenger a drink.

Boozer. Public house, as well as those who frequented it.

Booze-fencers. / Booze-pushers. Licensed sellers of beer.

Soaked the mill. An American term, it refered to a man who had sold all his property through drink.

If you enjoyed the words and phrases explored in this month’s blog, I recommend purchasing a copy of J. Redding Ware’s Victorian Dictionary of Slang & Phrase. It’s where I found all the words and phrases featured here. In addition to drinking and drunkenness, it contains words and phrases from all aspects of nineteenth century society, from thieves to aristocracy, from military to navy, and much more.


~ T.G. Campbell,February 2024