Friday, January 15, 2010

Booty: "Round About Phrases"

I've always been a big fan of Benjamin Franklin. Say what you want about the man, you'll generally get no argument from me (except maybe over here). He was brilliant, able to see the big picture and compromise for it and prepared to ask the tough questions that no one else seemed to want to deal with. Of course, he was also pompous, crass, undeniably a womanizer and yeah, he drank. There's no question, either, that he was not a seaman. In fact, from what I've read, he was no sailor at all spending most of his time during his trans-Atlantic crossings losing his lunch rather than chumming it up with the crew. He did, however, hang out with sailors. Pretty much everybody did in old Philadelphia which was one of the most prolific port towns in colonial America and later the burgeoning United States.

I'm pretty sure it was probably Ben's close association with not only taverns but sailors that led him to write a piece in his Pennsylvania Gazette in January of 1736. The article was entitled The Drinkers Dictionary and it gave the reader 228 "round-about phrases" which, in common parlance, signified "...plainly that a man is drunk". So basically, it's a list of slang terms for being pie-eyed, and it looks to me like a good many of Ben's choices come directly from the lexicon of the seaman. Here are a few of my favorites:

Cocked, juicy, fuzzled, crampfooted, wamble-cropped, bungey, buzzey (doubtless an ancestor of our own "buzzed"), soft, steady, glad, groatable, been to see the bear, dizzy as a goose, and so on.

Some that come obviously from seafaring references are: been to see the Creature or been to the head (references to the old shipboard latrine), wet, stiff, lost his rudder, boozed the gage or binnacle (referring to the ship's compass and the box in which it was kept), got his topgallants out, or nimptopsicaled, kissed black Betty (alluding to the black tankards kept on board ships), ragged, raised.

The list goes on, obviously, but I would venture to say that close to three quarters of the words referenced have a seafaring origin and why not? For the most part - aside from hard cider - the colonials had to import their spirits and devil rum was on the verge of becoming the most popular drink in the English speaking world. In a hundred years it would be a mandatory privilege to get your tot of grog aboard both Royal and U.S. Navy ships, and in England rum would be Nelson's Blood. But, for now, thanks Ben. As always, you've given us something to smile about.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy Pauline! And don't forget my favorite Ben Franklin quote, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy", not to mention the whole "Electric Hellfire Club" thing...

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Well you gotta love Ben no matter how you slice it.