Recently Russell and I witnessed first-hand the imprecision of the word “drunk.”
It happened as we were walking back up East Ninth Street in Cleveland after the Browns’ victory over the Steelers last Sunday. In a crowd full of people who’d had some kind of alcoholic beverage during the day, we came across a living, stumbling definition of “shit-faced” who was lurching from side to side as we approached. He had somehow lost a shoe and almost fell over trying to retrieve it. When Russell picked it up and handed it to him, we noticed the guy’s nose was covered in fresh blood — whether from a trip and fall, a liquor-fueled brawl with a Steelers fan, or some other mishap, we’d never know — and his face was lit with that familiar, bright alcoholic haze. Russell kindly gave him a napkin he happened to have, so the besotted wretch could stanch the flow of blood, and we hurried past. The guy wobbled along, no doubt to an impending, hunched over encounter with a street gutter before he found whoever was going to drive him home.
“Drunk” is too generic; it doesn’t really capture the different gradations of inebriation that we all recognize through years of experience. It’s why “drunk” is often combined with other words, as in messy drunk or blind drunk or falling down drunk. If you’re going to have a drink for festive purposes, you’re probably aiming for tipsy or buzzed or lubricated or toasted — words that reflect a happy, uninhibited state, yet one where the drinker still maintains some semblance of physical and mental control and can speak in moderately coherent sentences. You don’t want to venture into the territory of potted, sloppy, sloshed, or trashed, and if you’ve crossed the line into hammered, blotto, plastered, or wasted, there is no going back. All you can do is hope that you finally stop the intake before you reach the shit-faced pinnacle — or, perhaps more appropriately, nadir — of embarrassing, knee-walking, vomit-covered public intoxication.
These considerations are useful to keep in mind as we head into the heart of the holiday season.