14 Ways of Saying "Drunk" Across the United States
Three sheets to the wind. Seeing double. Tanked. There are numerous ways of saying “drunk.” (Benjamin Franklin alone gathered 200 synonyms.) And depending on where you are in the United States, you might hear a different way of describing a state of inebriation. Here are 14 tipsy terms from around the U.S., brought to you with help from our friends at the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE).
1. Cork High and Bottle Deep
You might hear this colorful idiom in Georgia. In a 1960 novel, Walk Egypt, a group of Atlanta fishermen are nearly suffocated by a stopped-up chimney. “They was cork-high and bottle deep,” a character says. “Or they’da smelled it.”
2. Drunk as a Bowdow
This term for “very drunk” is probably a variation of drunk as a boiled owl, according to DARE. Why “boiled”? It’s slang for “intoxicated,” with the earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) from 1885, perhaps along the same lines of being stewed or pickled. Why owl? That’s not as clear. DARE Chief Editor George Goebel suggests that “the image of the owl as a comically solemn and somewhat stupid bird is certainly evocative of certain stages of drunkenness.”
This word for tipsy or drunk seems to be a riff on spifflicated, another old-timey term for drunk. Spifflicated seems to have first been used by American writer O. Henry in 1902 and comes from the verb spiflicate, meaning “to deal with in such a way as to confound or overcome completely.” Pifflicated—also, piffed, pifficated, and piffled—might be used in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
You might be flabbergasted by something shocking or surprising, or by something boozy, at least if you’re in Pennsylvania.
Wasted in Wisconsin? You could say you're plotzed or plotched. This might come from the Yiddish plotz, meaning to explode (figuratively), to split at one's seams, or to die from laughter, etc.
If you’re skunk-drunk, you’re thoroughly soused. This term is chiefly used in the South and South Midland. Other drunk-as-a-skunk sayings include skunk-bit, which might be used in the Pacific Northwest, skunked in Minnesota, and skunky in California. Why skunks? Perhaps you might be as "stinking drunk" as a skunk, or because of the rhyme.
7. Lap-Legged Drunk
The next time someone is so plastered they’re walking wobbly, you can say they’re lap-legged drunk. Lap-legged might come from lapsided, a variation of lopsided.
8. Drunk as Cooter Brown
Who’s Cooter Brown and why is he so drunk? The origin of this chiefly Southern term is debated. Cooter Brown might be “some proverbial drunkard,” according to a quote in DARE. The Farmer’s Almanac describes him as someone who lived on the Mason-Dixon line during the Civil War. To avoid getting drafted by either the North or the South, he got drunk and stayed that way. A Way with Words, on the other hand, says cooter means “box turtle” and refers to “a turtle swimming around in its own drink.” Also drunk as a cootie.
9. Tead (Op)
Tea up is an old-fashioned term meaning to drink to excess. Hence, tead or tead up means drunk. Tea is a slang term for “spirituous or intoxicating” liquor, as the OED puts it, although why isn’t clear. Perhaps it’s acting as a euphemism.
10. Over the Bay, Half the Bay Over
These pieces of lingo for “somewhat intoxicated” are chiefly used in the Northeast. As per a quote from Maine Lingo: A Wicked-Good Guide to Yankee Vernacular, “Over the bay means one has had more than enough to drink and is temporarily out of contact.”
11. Have Ballast on Board
Originally a nautical expression that referred to placing heavy material on a ship to stabilize it when it’s empty of cargo.
12. Make (a) Virginia Fence
Chiefly used in New England and the South, Virginia fence, also known as a rail or worm fence, is made by stacking the rails so their ends overlap at an angle. A quote from the 1949 book A Word Geography of the Eastern United States says this “old-fashioned rail fence [is] built of overlapping rails laid zigzag fashion,” and in New England “is commonly known as a Virginia rail fence to distinguish it from the post-and-rail fence of New England.” To make a Virginia fence means to walk unsteadily or be drunk.
Also how-came-you-so, this old-timey term might have been heard in New York and Massachusetts. From a 1911 book called Cap’n Warren’s Wards: “One evenin’ Labe was comin’ home pretty how-come-you-so, and he fell into Jandab Wixon’s well.” How came you so also means to be pregnant: “She’s how-came-you-so.”
14. Acknowledge the Corn
The next time you want to convince a pal they’ve had enough, you can say, “Just acknowledge the corn, dude.” While this phrase originally meant “to admit to being drunk,” it also came to mean to confess to any mistake. Also confess the corn, own the corn, acknowledge the coin, and acknowledge the malt. Corn here refers to corn liquor. While formerly widespread, the saying is now chiefly used in the Midland.
A version of this story ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2021.