To mark International Beer Day on August 5th, we documented the regionalisms and pub slang that people throughout the British regions use when discussing alcohol, its consumption and its effects.
According to the British Beer and Pub Association, there were over 47,000 pubs across the UK in 2019, and the scale of this national spread is matched by a diversity of local dialect and slang to describe drinking culture.
We worked with poets, local dialect societies and academics to explore the richness of vocabulary variations, regional dialects and local slang words across Britain, raising a proverbial glass to the different ways people in Britain might talk about going out on the peeve (“alcohol” in Geordie), trips to the howff (“the pub” in Southern Scots) or outdoor (“off licence” in Brummie), and meeting friends for a few tots (“drinks” in Brummie).
Each region of the UK also has unique phrases to capture the effects of (inadvisable) overindulgence: in Newcastle, drinkers might describe themselves as “off me lips,” whereas their intoxicated fellow countryfolk in Northumbria would opt for being “mortalatious,” “bladdered” in Manchester, and “wazzled” in Cardiff.
“The UK is as rich in its variety of regional accents and dialects as a pub landlord is after a busy summer weekend! This is shown in the abundance of slang terms that exist surrounding recreational drinking,” said Lucy Trowbridge, Editor in Learning Content at Babbel. “Though a common experience shared by many Brits, the language associated with beer drinking is largely localised, with residents of one town using inventive and humorous expressions not shared by those also raising a glass just a few miles from them.”
“So, to mark International Beer Day, we wanted to celebrate this diversity of language as well as improve an out-of-towner’s odds of getting served at the bar more quickly.”
Contributed by Matt Windle, Birmingham Poet Laureate 2016/18
Hanging like a bosted couch: To be hungover. It’s how you feel the following morning after totting or getting tanked-up the night before. When a couch is new, the springs are good, the foam is firm, the main beams are securely fixed together and you sit proudly on top of it. Now if any of the above are damaged, it will feel that you are being enveloped in an upholstered pit — “hanging” in your busted couch.
Tanked-up: Very drunk. “I want to get tanked-up this weekend.”
Tot: To have a drink. “I’ll have a couple or three tots down the boozer.”
The outdoor: A shop that sells alcohol. “I’m going to pop to the outdoor for some more beer.”
Contributed by Katiuska Ferrer Portillo, PhD Candidate (University of Bristol)
Cidered up: Drunk on cider. You might hear somebody in the pub say, “Cider I up landlord.”
Scrumpy: Still cider, homemade or farm-made, strong!
Collected by poets Peter Finch and Tôpher Mills
Half seas over: Drunk collapsed on the floor. We reckon that “half seas over” and “wazzled” are both ancient in origin and have connections with the city’s seafaring past.
On the wobble: Drunk.
Skull attacked: Drunk. Cardiff’s best-known local brewery, and until recently one that brewed right in the heart of the city, is SA Brain. It is named after the founder Samuel Arthur Brain. Brains SA, a cask ale, was first brewed in 1958. What does the “SA” stand for? Samuel Arthur the founder? Strong ale? Skull attack? The brewery carefully never quite answered these questions. Over the decades it came to be known as “skull attack” simply because of its strength.
Wazzled: Drunk. Pronounced wozzuld. Also “wazzle” and “wazzley.” Wazzled is more likely to be a corruption of West Country “wassailed” (wassailing is an ancient custom associated with orchards in cider-producing areas). Cardiff’s accent comes from a mix of Welsh, Irish and West Country, the places from which most of the city’s (then a town) immigrant working population in the 19th century came.
Contributed by sociolinguist Dr Sadie Ryan, host of Accentricity podcast
“All of them mean ‘very drunk,’ although ‘half-cut’ might be a bit less extreme in its meaning than the others. All of these are used in Glasgow, but are probably used elsewhere in Scotland too,” comments Ryan.
Contributed by Dr David Hornsby, reader in French and Linguistics at University of Kent
Three sheets to the wind
Tired and emotional
All meaning: drunk.
“The south-east, because of London, has become something of a population magnet, so it has very little vocabulary exclusive to itself,” says Hornsby. “One change I’ve noticed in the last 30 to 40 years is the simile associated with ‘pissed,’ which I think has largely moved from ‘…as a newt’ (which my father would have said) to ‘…as a fart,’ which I suspect now is more natural among people younger than me.”
Contributed by Rachel Byrne, PhD student at the University of Liverpool
Ale: Beer, alcohol. You might hear, “I’m having a can of ale at my gaff.”
Ale-house: Pub. “We all went to the ale-house last night.”
Bevvied: Adjective meaning “drunk.” “They were absolutely bevvied.”
Bevvy: Noun meaning “alcoholic drink.” You might hear, “Shall we get a bevvy?” It can also be used as a verb, meaning “to drink alcohol.” For example, “We’re going bevvyin’ in Liverpool.”
Wrecked: Very intoxicated. “He was wrecked last night.”
“Liverpool English, sometimes known as “Scouse,” is a dialect often spoken by people from Liverpool and the surrounding areas of Merseyside. It is a northern variety of English which has influences from Ireland, Wales and northern Europe. The term “Scouse” is a contraction of the word “lobscouse,” a type of stew made with meat, vegetables and ship’s biscuit which was eaten by sailors* and reflects the significance of Liverpool’s thriving ports from the 1700s. Scouse is still a popular dish in Liverpool today.”
*”Scouse.” The Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins. Ed. Cresswell, Julia. : Oxford University Press, . Oxford Reference.
London: Cockney Rhyming Slang
Contributed by Rob Woodford, Black Cab Heritage Tours
Brahms and Liszt: Pissed. “Where there are two words, quite often only the one word is said, like Brahms.”
Calvin Klein: Wine.
Elephant’s trunk: Drunk.
Gold watch: Whisky (as in Scotch).
Philharmonic: Gin and tonic.
Pig’s ear: A beer.
Rub-a-Dub: The pub.
Tom Thumb: Rum.
Vera Lynn: Gin.
Rob Woodford comments, “As a London Tour Guide, I tell guests that it is said that ‘one for the road’ was the final chance for convicts sentenced to death to have one last drink at the halfway point from Newgate Prison to the Execution Site at Tyburn (Marble Arch). The only guy who could not have a drink was in charge of the horse and cart, as he had to stay ‘on the wagon.'”
Contributed by Jonnie Fielding of Bowl of Chalk walking tours
Battle cruiser: Rhyming slang for “boozer.” Another word for “pub.”
Cow’s calf: Half (a pint of beer).
“Cockney Rhyming Slang is a vernacular language that developed in London in the mid-19th century,” Jonnie Fielding adds. “The exact origins are disputed, but generally thought to be a slang used by market traders, possibly by east London market traders who lived and worked in a now largely Jewish area, but didn’t speak Yiddish, so developed their own language. It is thought it was used by criminals to speak on the street or in prison without being understood. Usually formed of two words, the second word rhymes with the word being substituted. For example, ‘Nice Barnet’ means nice haircut which comes from Barnet Fair = hair. Another is ‘Let’s have a butchers,’ which comes from butcher’s hook = look. A sort of coded language. Either way, it has become part of general English language in Britain.”
Contributed by Dr. Alex Baratta, Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester
On the razz: Having a night out with friends, with drinking understood to be a large part of the activity.
Rough and ready: While this can have wider usage than just referring to drinking (e.g. “His singing voice is rough and ready”), it can also be used to refer to the more seedier pubs/those which are not particularly up market.
Contributed by Dr George Bailey, Lecturer in Sociolinguistics at the University of York and researcher at the Our Dialects project
Angin and mingin: “Hanging and minging.” These have general connotations of grossness/disgust but they’re now often applied to an extreme state of hangover; they’re often pronounced in a particularly Mancunian way, with the H dropped from hanging, the final G dropped from both, and a hard G in the middle of each word.
Bladdered: To be drunk beyond one’s limits (and the limits of one’s bladder!)
“Mancunian is often described as having a kind of nasal drawl, but the reality is a lot more complex than that. It’s an interesting accent because Manchester, and especially the Greater Manchester area, is incredibly diverse. Greater Manchester is made up of 10 boroughs, which were united under this Greater Manchester label in the 1970s, but prior to that unification, some of these towns and villages were part of different counties such as Lancashire, Cheshire and even Yorkshire,” comments Dr George Bailey. “This results in a really interesting mixture of historically very rural milltowns dotted around the large urban centre of Manchester and Salford. It also means there’s a lot of linguistic diversity in what is a relatively small geographical area. You travel from Wigan in one corner of Greater Manchester to Stockport in the other corner and you’ll hear about three or four different accents, since almost every borough is markedly different from the other. And that’s not to mention the incredible ethnic diversity that we now see in Manchester as well — it’s a real melting pot of linguistic diversity, much in the same way as London is.”
Contributed by Rowan McCabe, the world’s first Door-to-Door Poet and “professional waffler” from Newcastle upon Tyne
Mortal: Drunk. If you go to Newcastle city centre any night of the week, you’re bound to hear someone shout “Heer man, I’m mortal me” at least five times.
Off me lips: This is a broader term for being intoxicated on a range of substances, but it generally means to be extremely inebriated. This one has always made me smile. I love the idea that you could be so out of it that you leave your lips behind. I don’t know where the lips go. Or how you get them back…
Peeve: Alcohol. “Me and Tony are going out on the peeve.”
Tinnies: Cans of beer. Although originally an Australian thing, Geordies have embraced this word for cans of beer in a way I’ve not seen anywhere else in the UK.
Whitey: A whitey, or to “pull a whitey,” means to be sick, usually after consuming too much alcohol. Fun fact, it can also double as a way of describing a particularly difficult or unpleasant problem. E.g. Person one: “I’m going to have to fill in my tax return today.” Person 2: “What a whitey.”
“Us Geordies love a drink,” says McCabe. “It’s our main superpower. If Superman can fly, and Spiderman shoots webs out of his hands, Geordie Man would drink beer. Loads and loads of beer.”
Contributed by The Northumbrian Language Society
Dozzened: Also “dozzent.” Means “incapable through drink or exhaustion.”
Donnart: Daft, foolish, drunk, staggering about.
Mortalatious: Also mortalicious/mortacious/mortalious. Means “totally drunk,” an extension of the word “mortal”: “She boldly charged the officer with having been drunk, and not only drunk, but mortalacious.” — Newcastle Evening Chronicle Aug 8, 1898, which also states: “Everybody who attends the Newcastle court…is familiar with the finely expressive word “mortallious.”
Peevy: Drunk, from “peev” for alcoholic drink, from the Romany “peava,” to drink.
“Northumbrian, with its local dialect variants including Tyneside’s Geordie, is the modern descendant of the original Old English language spoken by the Angles who settled in Northeast England and Lowland Scotland 1,500 years ago in the days of St Cuthbert and Bede,” adds The Northumbrian Language Society.
Contributed by poet and founder of Tounges&Grooves, Maggie Sawkins
Going for a shant: Going for a beer.
Lake: “It was a lake night out” means it was a great night out.
“Portsmouth is an island city with a dialect influenced by long naval associations (Jackspeak), Londoners rehoused after WW2 bombing, and an influx of Romany speakers after the New Forest enclosures,” says Sawkins. “The Portsmouth dialect — or “Pompey Speak” — is different structurally and phonetically not only from surrounding Hampshire but also from all other regional English accents. And this unique sound is not a recent phenomenon; it can be heard here in the speech of 90-year-olds as well as young children.”
Contributed by poet Stuart Paterson
Blootered: Means “very drunk indeed!”
Cairry-oot: “A boozy takeaway” of a few cans or bottles. Also, the name of the place where you probably bought them!
Hauf an hauf: A “half & half,” as in a half pint of heavy (the Scottish word for beer, bitter, between 3.5% and 4.0% abv) and a measure of a spirit.
The howff: The pub.
Oot yer tree!: Out of your tree! As in “Not in the sobriety tree!”
Snug: A nice wee (small) drinking room at the back of a howff.
Steamboats: Again, “very drunk!”
Stotious: Drunk. Might come from the verb “stot,” “to stagger,” where you’d “stot aboot,” as in “stagger about,” if pretty stotious!
“Scots is the old, Low Germanic language, spoken throughout Scotland in many different dialects, from the Borders to Shetland, and in Northern Ireland,” says Paterson. “Scots has a written tradition going back 800-plus years, and was once the official language of the Scottish Royal Court and the Scottish legal system, where there are still many unique Scots words and phrases. It isn’t related to the Celtic language Gaelic. Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns grew up and lived his whole working life in south Scotland, where he wrote many of his poems in his native southern Scots language, also known as Lallans, or Lowlands Scots. A poem he wrote that became a song sung by billions of people worldwide every year is in our Scots language — Auld Lang Syne (Times Gone Past)!”