Thursday, September 26, 2013

How Drunk Was Ben Franklin?

I've been reading Bill Bryson's book Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States, because I'm fascinated by the dastardly English language. Oh, and because I'm a huge herb.*

*Do people still say "herb"?

I just finished a section about Ben Franklin in which Bryson discusses Franklin's various pursuits, including science, politics, business, and womanizing. Bryson also mentions that Franklin "wrote essays on everything from how to select a mistress (take an older woman) to how to avoid flatulence (drink perfume)."

While I was pleased to read that one of our Founding Fathers liked fart jokes, I was especially intrigued to read that in 1737, Franklin wrote the first list of American slang terms for drunkenness. I couldn't resist Googling it, and I easily found Ben's 228 synonyms for "drunk".

Franklin probably never said this, but that doesn't mean he didn't like to get sauced.
Some of my favorite terms from Franklin's list are "Drunk as a Whell-Barrow," "Seafaring," and "Lost his Rudder." All three phrases vividly describe the stereotypical drunken stagger.

I also like "Disguiz'd," "Bewitch'd," and "Tongue-ty'd" because the words themselves look archaic enough that they could transport you back to a pub in Franklin's Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Franklin himself apparently used booze to get away from the City of Brotherly Love. His list tells us that being drunk is like being "among the Philistines," "among the Philippians," "at Barbadoes," with "the French King," or "Going to Jerusalem." Quite a booze cruise.

Some of the terms used by Franklin and his buddies still endure today. On any given Friday night, my buddies -- and, I suspect, yours too -- might use the terms "In his Element," "Tipsey," and "Stew'd" (outdated spelling notwithstanding). I guess modern pubs aren't that much different than those patronized by Franklin.*

*You know, aside from televisions, jukeboxes, and the fact that we now allow women into our pubs.

I also like the term "Very Weary," even though it's not as descriptive as some of the others. It reminds me of the Family Guy scene when Lois asks Peter if he's drunk, and he replies, "No, I'm just tired from drinkin' all night." Peter Griffin gets "Very Weary" very frequently.

Speaking of contemporary comedies, I can't think about Ben Franklin without imagining him as the stripper in a classic episode of The Office. At one point, Michael Scott says, "Mr. Franklin, I would say you are probably one of the sexiest presidents ever." I think Michael's comment is probably alcohol-fueled after Bob Vance's office bachelor party. As Franklin himself would say, Michael has likely "Been at an Indian Feast" or "Been too free with Sir John Strawberry."

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