drunkardsprogress

Legend (or marketing) has it that on this day in 1789, Baptist minister Elijah Craig “invented” bourbon when he aged whiskey inside charred oak barrels.

In June of 1929, however, when Kansas was still very much a dry state, the American Dialect Society’s journal  American Speech ran ” a record of the wet words and phrases ” still in use among the Kansan people, compiled by American folklorist Vance Randolph.

“I know very little about liquor myself,” he writes, “and doubtless my classification of these terms has faults which will be apparent to the initiated, but I have set down the items exactly as I have heard them in casual conversation during the past four months.”

Whiskey is sometimes called  donk or  mule because of its powerful “kick,” and the term  forty-rod whiskey is said to imply that a man cannot walk more than forty rods after taking a drink of it, although another school of thinkers contends that a drink of this beverage actually causes the  run forty rods before he can stop himself!  Panther-sweat, monkey-swill and rat-track whiskey are less easily classified, to say nothing of a number of more or less vulgar terms which are best omitted here . . . .

The only bonded liquor that I ever hear mentioned nowadays is whiskey, usually known as  drug-store whiskey or  prescription whiskey, a reference to the fact that physicians in the adjoining state of Missouri sometimes prescribe whiskey, and the Missouri druggists are allowed to fill the prescriptions, since there is no “bone-dry” law in Missouri . . . .

I do not think that many of my Kansas acquaintances care much for mixed drinks nowadays, but am told that some of them make  Manhattan and  Martini cocktails  by adding alcohol to the prepared flavoring extracts which may be purchased freely . . . . Some of the French and Italian miners are said to put alcohol into their black coffee, but it appears that the native Kansan does not favor this practice.


He concludes optimistically:
So much for the wet words still current in the Sunflower State . . . A collector who frequented the “joints” and roadhouses, and deliberately sought the society of our less temperate classes, could no doubt gather a great many more items, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to carry out such a study at present. One of the village ministers tells me that this liquor-jargon is in very truth a dying language, and that in fifty years an American college boy who encounters such a word as  booze in his reading will have to look it up in the dictionary!

As a friend pointed out , such a student in the 1970s was much more likely to drink some, in a bar called the Library.

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