15 Brewtastic Ways to Say 'Beer'
By Angela Tung
On March 22, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which essentially ended Prohibition by allowing the sale and consumption of low-alcohol beer and wine. The act went into effect on April 7, henceforth known as Beer Day. (The night before Beer Day? New Beer's Eve, of course.)
What better way to celebrate Beer Day than by popping a cold one, pouring a pint, or rushing the growler? How about with 15 more brewtastic ways to say "beer" and the stories behind them.
If brewski sounds like frat boy lingo, that’s because it is. It started as North American college slang, possibly as a play off words like Russki, buttinski, and other imitation Russian -ski words. The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation for brewski is from a 1977 Saturday Night Live skit: “Yes, we were extremely upset to find six-packs of brewski in the children's trick-or-treat bags.”
This U.S. term named for a beer’s sudsy head is from as early as 1904. Suds originally referred to dregs or filth, and then later to the foamy mass formed from soap in a lather, and then any kind of foam or froth.
Wallop is British slang that first came about in the early 1930s. Its connection to beer is unclear, although we have a few guesses. It could come from wallop's earlier meaning, the noisy bubbling of water, in reference to beer foam; a heavy clumsy movement, as one might have from too much wallop; or the boxing sense of a heavy blow or whack, which is where the phrase “packs a wallop” comes from, and what a lot of beers might have.
Wallop might also give us codswallop, "nonsense or rubbish." Cod in this sense refers to “testicles.”
4. AND 5. TINNIE AND AMBER NECTAR
Tinnie and amber nectar are both Australian for beer. While tinnie arose in the 1970s to refer to the beer can, amber nectar originated in the 19th century and meant any amber-colored drink. It was in the mid-1980s when Foster’s began using the phrase in its ad campaign that amber nectar was equated with lager beer. Variants include amber fluid and amber liquid.
Look at that, another beer name from Oz. Sherbet originally referred to, as the OED puts it, “a cooling drink of the East, made of fruit juice and water sweetened, often cooled with snow." It was first marketed to the west as zerbet. The word might come from Arabic sharba, “to drink.”
Slops, which is U.S. and Australian slang, also refers to semi-liquid food, especially that given to pigs. Synonyms include hogwash and pigwash, which can be pig food, cheap liquor, or nonsense.
Gatter is a British slang term with an unclear origin. All we know is that it first appeared in English around 1818 and is mentioned in what publisher John Camden Hotten called “a curious Slang street melody” titled "Bet, the Coaley's Daughter": “‘Come stow that patter, / If you’re a cove wot likes a gal, / Vy don’t you stand some gatter?”
We can thank the Brits for this beer word, too. Referring to “pale ale or a mixture of pale ale and another beer,” the now rarely-used pongelo originated around 1864. The word might come from pong, apparently also slang for beer (maybe from its “stink” meaning), and the fanciful ending -elo. Pongelo and its variants might have started as Anglo-Indian army slang.
10. SMALL BEER
Back in the 15th century, small beer was weak or inferior beer, but by the early 1700s, meant trivial matters or trifles. "To think small beer of" means to have a low opinion of yourself or someone else.
Another term for bad beer, inky-pinkie is Scots and now only remembered, according to the Dictionary of the Scots Language, in versions of a play called Galatians or Galoshins, which was performed from house to house on Hogmanay, New Year’s Eve in Scotland.
A now rare dialectical in Scotland, northern Ireland, and northern England, penny-whip was a weak beer that was sold for a penny a bottle. The first appearance in English of penny-whip might be from Scottish poet Robert Burns's poem "The Holy Fair": “Be 't whisky-gill or penny-wheep, / Or ony stronger potion.”
Yet another word for substandard brew, pritch might have first referred to soured beer. Pricked wine or beer is that which has turned sour or vinegary.
In the 19th century U.S., you might have used this German loan word to refer to bland beer. The original German is schenkbier, or draft beer, and is referred to as such because it needed to be put on draft and be immediately consumed, or else risk souring.
Swipes is a 19th-century word that refers to weak beer or beer in general. Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens both used it, the former in a letter—“I am bringing down with me a tankard for swipes”—and the latter in Oliver Twist: “It's been as dull as swipes.”
While it’s not clear where the word swipes comes from, the feeble beer meaning seems to have given rise to swipe meaning to drink in one gulp.
Additional references: A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English; Americanisms: The English of the New World.