Plimsoll line

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sun Sep 22 15:47:27 UTC 2013

My father, a merchant seaman in the 1920s -- bootlegger, too -- used to use
the expression "to take one over the Plimsoll line" to mean "drunk".

The Plimsoll line on a cargo ship shows not only how high the ship is
sitting in the water, but also whether the weight of the cargo is evenly


On Sun, Sep 22, 2013 at 12:14 AM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at>wrote:

> OED does have a full entry for Plimsoll that includes a mention of
> "Plimsoll line".
>  1. Naut. attrib. and in the genitive. Chiefly with capital initial.
>> Designating a marking or series of markings on the side of a merchant
>> ship which indicates, in British maritime law, the draught level to
>> which the ship may be loaded with cargo (now consisting of a set of
>> six such marks applying to different sea conditions); esp. in Plimsoll
>> line, Plimsoll's mark (also Plimsoll mark), Plimsoll's pancake. Also fig.
> Other than the latest (1993) example, there is a padding of figurative
> examples (1961, 1964, 1978). But there is one fairly direct meaning that
> is missing completely.
> Commercial glassware specifically intended for beer now often carries a
> "pour line" that marks the supposed proper volume for the glass (the
> rest of the space presumably filled with "head"). This is not a random
> customer-friendly move--a number of European countries take proper fills
> quite seriously and punish violators for fraud. In Germany, a stern
> warning has been issued to vendors at Oktoberfest to pour full amounts
> or risk prosecution and rather stiff fines. The specifics are beside the
> point, as the issue is the use of "Plimsoll line" to describe this mark
> on glassware.
> I'm not sure how long this has been in circulation, but it is quite well
> established.
>> Many beer glasses indicate the level of a full pint with a barely
>> noticeable line about 3/4 inch below the rim. Called the Plimsoll line
>> in England, it is named after ship-building reformer Samuel Plimsoll,
>> who is better known for his universally accepted convention for
>> marking the load line on cargo ships.
>> Other requirements include:
>>   * the glass or jug must be of a design or ‘pattern’ approved by NMI
>>     under approval category 4/1/0D
>>   * the capacity of a beer glass can be defined by either the brim or
>>     a capacity (Plimsoll) line
>>   * the capacity of a beer jug must be defined by a capacity
>>     (Plimsoll) line
>>   * beverage measures must be marked with the capacity in millilitres
>>     (mL)
>>   * beverage measures must be made of a rigid or semi-rigid material
>> As I was having a beer at Gordon Biersch I got to thinking about the
>> Plimsoll Line on the glassware and the origins of the line. In the
>> beer world a Plimsoll Line is a line which designates the minimum
>> amount of liquid beer in the glass to have a proper pour. In some
>> countries it is actually law, but in the US it is just a mark on the
>> glass. In reality Samuel Plimsoll created a line around ships to be
>> able to determine their depth. On a ship many call the Plimsoll Line a
>> waterline.
>> So the next time you are somewhere and get a glass with a line you
>> know now the 30 second history of the line and can explain it to your
>> fellow patrons who will view you as either a person with impressive
>> beer knowledge or an idiot!
> There's a relevant image at the last link.
> VS-)
> ------------------------------**------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list