Susie Dent’s Top Tens: 10 words for drinkers

Here is a brief selection of the various individuals who might turn up at the local and some of the best historical words to describe them.

Susie Dent Top Ten

Fancy a trip to the rub-a-dub or the thirst bazaar? Perhaps you’re a lush-wallower or elbow-crooker who can’t wait for opening time so you can say hello to the suds-slinger?

The lexicon of drinking is vast, and the characters who populate our pubs and bars are as true a slice of humanity as you can find anywhere. Here then is a brief selection of the various individuals who might turn up at the local (or our kitchen), and some of the best words from historical dictionaries to describe them.

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Slang can be especially cruel, and ‘shotclog’ is a prime example. First recorded in the late 16th century, this is the pub bore who is only tolerated because they are buying the next round.


There are seceral definitions of the word ‘snecklifter, from a ghost to someone who goes door to door in the traditional ‘First Footing’ ritual on Hogmanay.The more useful however is surely the person who lifts up the old-fashioned latch (‘sneck’) of a tavern’s door and pokes their head round to see if there’s anyone who might stand them a drink.


The 16th-century tosspot was not quite the fool (or worse) we imagine today. The very first meaning of the word was one accustomed to ‘tossing back’ their pot of drink and promptly asking another. In other words, a tosspot was a very heavy drinker.

a drunk 'tosspot' susie dent


Should you swerve alcohol altogether, however, then you might happily call yourself a ‘hydropot’, a rather satisfying nickname for a water-drinker.


We all know the type: the pub-goer whose smile becomes broader as the evening goes on and who ends up showing an endearing (or annoying) amount of affection to everyone, including random strangers. This huggy individual was once described as ‘cherubimical’.


It has been over 500 years since Thomas Nashe, the Elizabethan playwright and acerbic author, described his eight different kinds of drunkards. But even today we’d probably recognize them all. He who is lion-drunke, for example, becomes extremely aggressive; if they aregoat-drunkethey become lecherous, while anyoneswine-drunke’ is ‘heavy, lumpish, and sleepie, and cries for a little more drinke’.

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Knights of the Spigot?

Knight of the spigot

Our publicans and bar-keepers have attracted numerous epithets over the centuries. All hail the booze slingers, beer jugglers, poison shovers and gin-jerkers. Knight of the spigot is surely the most honourable, however, the far more worthy relative of the ‘lickspigot’, the friend who always seems to turn up just as you’re opening a bottle of wine.


Originally, a lanspresado was a non-commissioned officer of the lowest grade. Its next incarnation may be far more useful, however, for a dictionary of slang from 1699 defines it as ‘he that comes into Company with but Two Pence in his pocket’. In other words, this is the person who is always broke and who hopes to benefit from the generosity, or forgetfulness, of their friends.

Admiral of the narrow seas

In his blunt and uncompromising collection of the language of the ordinary people – including tavern-keepers and drinkers, highwaymen and cutpurses, the 18th-century lexicographer Francis Grose notes the ‘Admiral of the narrow seas’, defined curtly as ‘A drunken man who vomits into the lap of the person sitting opposite him’.

I can only apologise.

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