Tight = drunk

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Tue May 1 20:21:23 UTC 2007

On Tue, May 01, 2007 at 04:06:49PM -0400, Laurence Horn wrote:
> Maybe so now (the dictionaries don't always make it clear that
> "tight" is stronger than "tipsy", but my intuitions go your way), but
> that makes the Farmer and Henley cite, repeated here, all the more
> remarkable--
> 1868. Bramleighs of Bishop's Folly.
> 'No sir, not a bit tipsy', said Harding, interpreting his glance.
> 'Not even what Mr Cutbill would call tight!'
> Clearly there's a scale presupposed here on which "tipsy" outranks
> "tight", at least for Harding and Mr. Cutbill:  the referent here is
> not even tight, let alone tipsy.  So perhaps there has been a
> sesquicentennial shift resulting in the topping up of "tight", the
> watering down of "tipsy", or both.

Some more context:

  L'Estrange now looked the speaker fully in the face; and to
  his astonishment saw that signs of his having drank [sic]
  freely--which, strangely enough, had hitherto escaped his
  notice--were now plainly to be seen there.
    'No, sir, not a bit tipsy,' said Harding, interpreting his
  glance; 'not even what Mr. Cutbill calls "tight"!...It's
  seventeen years since I took so much wine before.'

I note that Ogilvie's _Imperial Dictionary_ of 1883
specifically defines this as "slightly intoxicated; somewhat
under the influence of strong drink; tipsy", thought it quotes
this same passage as evidence. While the Imperial doesn't
explicitly rank (indeed, it equates) _tight_ and _tipsy_, it
clearly doesn't think that _tight_ means 'totally blasted'.

In my own idiolect _tight_ has an exceedingly old-fashioned
feel--Fitzgerald era, not even Cheever era. I could only
imagine it being said in a retro-hip cocktail context.

Jesse Sheidlower

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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