The English language is surprisingly rich in the language of inebriation. If someone is a little ‘tipsy’ – in the sense of slightly drunk and unsteady, rather than tipsy in the sense of askew or tilted (although they could be that too) – then there are many words to describe them.
If someone is ‘tiddly’ then they are also a little drunk. ‘Tiddly’ is an abbreviation of ‘tiddlywink’ which was an illegal grogshop, and rhymes with drink. In fact, ‘tiddly’ is still cockney rhyming slang for drink. So if someone offers you some ‘ping-pong tiddly’ – beware! – Its strong drink. A word of explanation to our Australian friends, a ‘tiddly pom’ is not – as you might imagine – a drunk Englishman: its a state of agitation. So don’t work yourself up into a right tiddly pom.
In older or archaic English the words for drunkard were mostly descriptive of the drunk’s behaviour. A ‘tosspot’ (from the 1500s) was so drunk that his cup or bottle flails about uncontrollably, spilling its contents. A ‘stumblebum’ clumsily staggers and falls.
Our maritime nation describes drunkards as ‘three sheets to the wind’ meaning that their sails are flapping uncontrollably as the boat rolls wildly from side to side.
In England, you’re ‘sober as a Judge’, or ‘drunk as a Lord’. The famous barrister FE Smith represented a drunkard and declared him to be “ as drunk as a Judge…” which rather irritated the Judge, who interrupted him with the words “I believe the normal saying Mr Smith is “drunk as a Lord””. F E Smith agreed: “Yes my Lord”. FE Smith went on to become both Lord Birkenhead and Lord Chancellor but I have no idea what his drinking habits were.
Many modern terms for inebriation are euphemisms. If you describe someone as ‘tired and emotional’ those in-the-know know that they are drunk. The iconic British satirical magazine ‘Private Eye’ has been using ‘tired and emotional’ to mean ‘intoxicated with alcohol’ since the late 60s. Its was adopted by MPs: you’re not allowed to accuse another MP of being drunk in the Houses of Parliament, so instead you can call him ‘tired and emotional’ or ‘not quite himself’ or ‘overwrought’. Tipsy people are also knowingly described as ‘happy’.
But sometimes language is confusing. When someone in the USA is ‘pissed‘ he is extremely annoyed. When someone in England is pissed he’s drunk.
Of course we would much prefer it is no-one over indulged. That’s why all our labels declare that our wine is ‘Made with care. Best drunk the same way‘. However, if you have over-indulged, isn’t it a comfort to know that the right words are on the tipsy of your tongue.