If you have not been following along, there is currently a row in the U.K. regarding some number (greater than one) of drinks parties Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave at 10 Downing Street, in defiance of Covid regulations.

The repeated use of the adjective “boozy” to describe them made me wonder if the term (also recently popular in the U.S.) is a NOOB. The answer appears to be yes.

I’ll point out, first, that a lot of dictionaries have some catching up to do with regard to “boozy.” The OED, Merriam-Webster.com, Lexico.com, and Dictionary.com all define it as a quality of a person: as Dictonary.com has it, “drunken; intoxicated; addicted to liquor.” But virtually all the examples that site has hoovered from the web use one of two related newer meanings:

Those new meanings are, first, an alcohol-driven event or experience (like Johnson’s parties) and, second, as a 2007 Urban Dictionary definition puts it: “referring to any item, substance, or food that has had booze added or applied to it, thereby greatly enhancing its appeal and/or taste. ‘Damn Gina! That’s some kickass boozy Pecan pie you done whipped up for me.'”

By the way, my daughter, an editor at a food magazine, informs me that this second “boozy” has become such a cliche that no one at her publication would deign to use it.

The first example of non-personal “boozy” I’ve found is from the House of Lords in 1976, when the Earl of Selkirk said: “I am asking for something which is quite small: that people should be given a little notice before a boozy festival takes place: I am not against boozy festivals from time to time; but the neighbours are entitled to a measure of protection.” (Interestingly, Lord Kirkhill responded, “My Lords, I do not want to prolong this matter but I do not know what the noble Earl means by “boozy festival.”)

As for NOOB-ness, looking at Google Books data from roughly 1975 on, “boozy” has consistently been roughly twice as commonly used in the U.K. as in the U.S.

But the Americans might catch up, as not all of our journalists are as scrupulous as my daughter and her colleagues. The New York Times, for example, has used “boozy” seven times since December 1, 2021, referring to, among other things, a revel, chats, a retirement, and two different cakes, including a Roumanian one served at a Brooklyn bakery that I am determined to try: “Spongy, creamy, fruity, boozy, the tiny savarin covers most all of the dessert food groups.”

14 thoughts on ““Boozy”

  1. I remember reading the criticism, “He couldn’t organize a booze-up in a brewery.” I thought it odd, because in America, we think of “booze” as “spirits” or “hard liquor,” not beer. Not, apparently, the case in the UK. I wonder if this is shifting over there?

      1. I have only ever known the meaning of ‘booze’ in UK to refer to all forms of alcoholic drink.

  2. It’s certainly not a recent usage: act three of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, probably first performed in 1689, has the following:
    Come away, fellow Sailors your Anchors be weighing,
    Time and Tide will admit no delaying.
    Take a Boozy short leave of your Nymphs on the Shore,

    Several web sites cite 1520 as the earliest reference, although others claim it derives from Middle English bousen, to drink to excess, from Middle Dutch būsen, which I would have presumed was earlier.

    Collinsdictionary.com has an interesting Recorded Usage graph which claims it was much more common in the 1725-1755 period than any before or since! Perhaps this is connected with the rise of Gin production after the disbanding of the London Guild of Distillers a generation earlier? This is the period that culminates in Hogarth’s Gin Lane print, decrying the damage the consumption of gin is doing to the working classes, after all.

  3. I think the adjective, boozy is an offshoot of the noun, booze. Another offshoot is boozer, meaning pub, and boozer meaning someone who likes their booze, perhaps an alcoholic. In my experience, it relates to all kinds of booze (alcohol).

  4. I feel sure that “boozy” is used in newspapers and on news websites more than in normal speech. Fleet Street hacks were always notorious drinkers.

  5. “By the way, my daughter, an editor at a food magazine, informs me that this second “boozy” has become such a cliche that no one at her publication would deign to use it.”

    Thoroughly delighted to read this; as a Brit in Boston, nothing grinds my gears more than the ad nauseam use of this word in articles on local edition of online food magazine, Eater.com… in fact a Google search of ‘”boozy” site:boston.eater.com’ returns 2,310 results… 2,310!

    I just put this down to to an irrational dislike from me, a young-middle-aged curmudgeon. So imagine my delight from the validation that I’m not alone here!

    Now to get your daughter an editorial job at Eater, Ben… next order of business, ending their overuse of “hand-pulled noodles” (496 hits and counting)

  6. Pingback: “Brunch”

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