Benjamin Franklin's "Drinkers Dictionary"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sat Jun 3 04:49:24 UTC 2006

For those on this list who may have been puzzled by my questions last
year about the slang of drinking in the eighteenth century and
earlier, I refer you to my article "The Source for Benjamin
Franklin's 'The Drinkers Dictionary' (and Was It Mather Byles?)", in
the Summer 2006 issue of American Speech.  The "Drinkers Dictionary"
is no longer Franklin's (abstract below).

I would like to thank those on this list whose help I have
received--in particular, Jesse Sheidlower, Jonathan Lighter, Doug
Wilson, and Stephen Goranson.  I apologize if I have overlooked anyone else.

ABSTRACT:  "The Drinkers Dictionary," a list of 229 expressions
describing someone who is inebriated, is commonly attributed to
Benjamin Franklin; a Pennsylvania Gazette article of January 13, 1737
(1736 Old Style), is credited as its first publication. There is,
however, an earlier publication of a very similar word list in the
New England Weekly Journal of July 6, 1736. The two word lists are
largely identical; however, differences in the lists and the
accompanying essays indicate that "The Drinkers Dictionary"
originated in Boston and suggest that Franklin's 1722 Silence Dogood
essay in the New-England Courant was not the primary genesis for
either word list. Thus, Franklin was not the earliest publisher and
most likely not the principal compiler of the word list. Possible New
England authors of the NEWJ essay and its dictionary are Mather
Byles, Joseph Green, and John Colman.


The American Dialect Society -

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