Beer history

From barley broth to Wompo: a dictionary of beer and pub slang

We’ve been collecting these bits of beer and pub slang for a while and thought they deserved a more permanent home than the occasional Tweet.

act of parliament. c.1785. Military. Small beer, from the legal obligation of landlords to provide five pints of weak beer to each soldier free of charge. (FG85)

admiral of the narrow seas. c.1750. Drunkenly vomiting into the lap of another person. (EP)

Alderman Lushington is concerned. c.1823. Said of someone who is drunk. (FG23)

ale draper. c.1823. Alehouse keeper. (FG23)

barley broth. c.1785. Strong beer. (FG85)

beggar maker. c.1785. Publican. A pub is ‘the beggar maker’s’. (FG85)

belch. c.1823. Beer. (FG23)

belly vengeance. c.1864. Small beer likely to upset your stomach. (H64)

bene bowse. c.1785. Good, strong beer. Thieves cant. (FG85)

blind excuse. c.1823. An obscure pub. (FG23)

bowsing ken. c.1823. An alehouse or gin-shop. (FG23)

bub. c.1823. Strong beer. (FG23)

bubber. c.1823. Drinking bowl. (FG23)

buy the sack. c.1823. To get drunk. (FG23)

can of white. c.1898. A quart of mild.

cold blood. c.1864. Off-licence. (H64)

cup shot. c.1823. Drunk. (FG23)

dog’s nose. c.1864. A mix of beer and gin, cold like a dog’s nose. (H64)

Dutch feast. c.1823. Party where the host gets drunk before the guests. (FG23)

freeholder. c.1823. A man whose wife goes to the pub with him. (FG23)

gatter. c.1864. Beer. (H64)

half seas over. c.1823. Almost drunk. (FG23)

hard. c.1823. Beer so stale (mature) it verges on sour. (FG23)

heavy wet. c.1823. Beer. (FG23)

hockey. c.1823. Drunk on old hock. (FG23)

hot pot. c.1785. Hot ale and brandy. (FG85)

hunt a tavern fox. c.1700. To get drunk. (EP)

hum cap. c.1823. Very strong beer; stingo. (FG23)

humming liquor. c.1785. Strong ale. (FG85)

humpty-dumpty. c.1723. Hot ale with brandy. (FG23)

hydromancy. c.1650. The practice of melodramatic, melancholy drunkenness. ‘He that weeps in his cups, and is Maudlen drunk, is said to study Hydromancie.’ – The English Liberal Science. (EP)

in his altitudes. c.1823. Drunk. (FG23)

in the gun. c.1823. Drunk. (FG23)

in the wind. c.1823. Drunk. (FG23)

jerry shop. c.1938. Lancashire slang term for a beerhouse, or basic bare-bones pub. (MO43)

knock-me-down. c.1823. Strong ale or beer; stingo. (FG23)

lotion. c.1940. Army slang for beer.

lush. c.1823. Strong beer. (FG23)

lushey. c.1823. Drunk. (FG23)

main line. c.1938. Mild ale. (WY38)

mauled. c.1785. Extremely drunk. (FG85)

military. Late C19. Porter.

moppy. c.1823. Drunk. (FG23)

nappy ale. c.1785. Strong ale. (FG85)

nip. c.1823. A half-pint of ale. (FG23)

oil of barley. c.1785. Strong beer. (FG85)

old hock. c.1823. Strong, stale (mature) beer. (FG23)

Perkins. c.1864. Beer, from Barclay Perkins. (H64)

pharaoh. c.1785. Strong beer. (FG85)

pint hole. c.1938. Lancashire slang for the public bar or vault. (MO43)

pogy. c.1823. Drunk. (FG23)

pongelow. C.1865. To drink beer – ‘Let’s pongelow, shall we?’ (H64)

pot of black. c.1898. Pint of porter.

pot walloper. c.1900. A heavy drinker.

purl. c.1823. Ale with wormwood, or warm ale with bitters. (FG23)

purser’s swipes. c.1823. Weak beer brewed on board a Navy ship. (FG23)

Queen Ann. c.1870. Three pints of beer in a large handled pewter pot, shared between family members. (Palace and Hovel, or Phases of London Life, Daniel Kirwan.)

queer bluffer. c.1823. The keeper of a rough pub. (FG23)

rot gut. c.1785. Weak beer drunk in volume. ‘Small beer, called beer a bumble,/ Will burst one’s guts before ‘twill make one tumble.’ (FG85)

scrub. c.1823. One who doesn’t pay his fair share at the pub. (John Bee, Dictionary of Slang, 1823)

Sir John Barleycorn. c.1823. Strong beer. (FG23)

six and tips. c.1785. Irish. Whisky and small beer. (FG85)

size of ale. c.1823. Half a pint. (FG23)

soul in soak. c.1823. Drunk. (FG23)

snuffy. c.1823. Drunk. (FG23)

spoony drunk. c.1823. Drunk to the point of behaving embarrassingly. (FG23)

sponge. c.1823. A dedicated drinker. (FG23)

stale drunk. c.1823. Hungover. (FG23)

stingo. c.1823. Strong beer. (FG23)

sucky. c.1785. Drunk. (FG85)

surveyor of the highways. c.1788. Staggering drunk. (FG88)

swallowed a hare. c.1823. Drunk. (FG23)

swankey. c.1864. West Country slang for cheap beer. (H64)

swipes. c.1823. Weak beer. (FG23)

swizzle. c.1864. Small beer. (H64)

taplash. c.1823. Thick, bad beer. (FG23)

tipsey. c.1823. Almost drunk. (FG23)

titter. c.1914. Pint of bitter – Army rhyming slang from ‘laugh and titter’.

top of reeb. Cockney back-slang for ‘a pot of beer’. (Harold Nicolson, Guardian, 22/02/1953)

walk up against the wall. c.1823. Run up a tab, recorded in chalk marks on the wall. (FG23)

wash. c.1785. Thick, bad beer. (FG85)

waste. c.1785. A tavern or alehouse full of idlers; house of waste. (FG85)

water bewitched. c.1785. Very weak beer. (FG85)

whip-belly vengeance. c.1823. Weak or sour beer. (FG23)

whip off. c.1823. To quickly or greedily knock back beer. (FG23)

wobble shop. c.1864. Unlicenced pub. (H64)

wompo. c.1938. Strong ale. (WY38)

  • The Slang Dictionary, John Camden Hotten, 1864 (H64)
  • Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, Francis Grose, 1782, 1788, 1823 (FG82, FG88, FG23)
  • What’s Yours?, T.E.B. Clarke, 1938 (WY38)
  • The Penguin Dictionary of Historical Slang, Eric Partridge, ed. Jacqueline Simpson, 1972 (EP)
  • The Pub and the People, Mass Observation, 1943 (MO43)

4 replies on “From barley broth to Wompo: a dictionary of beer and pub slang”

Fascinating assortment. Most rang a faint bell, but some…! (“Let’s pongelow, shall we?”)

Kipling used “swipes” in the poem “Follow me ‘ome” (published 1894); “It was still in Cassel’s Dictionary in 1962”, according to the Kipling Society .

Stingo still is in use, of course, albeit almost exclusively as Sam Smith’s Yorkshire Stingo. I’ve often wondered if Spingo, as in the Blue Anchor at Helston’s beers, is the same word.

Wobble shop – reckon there’s a few of them popping up now (ahem!)

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