Tight = drunk

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed May 2 15:08:00 UTC 2007

At 9:54 AM -0400 5/2/07, Charles Doyle wrote:
>The traditional form of the proverbial simile is "queer (odd, crazy)
>as Dick's hatband"--traceable back to the late 18th century in

Here's Evan Morris, as The Word Detective, and indirectly Robert
Hendrickson on both "tight" and "queer" versions of the hatband.
(There are lots of other web references to the same story.)  Any
reason for skepticism?

..."tight as Dick's hatband" is primarily a Southern expression here
in the U.S. I say "here in the U.S." because, according to Robert
Hendrickson's "Whistling Dixie, A Dictionary of Southern Expressions"
(Pocket Books, $12.95), the phrase actually originated in Great
Britain. The "Dick" in question was probably Oliver Cromwell's son
Richard (1626-1712), who succeeded his father as ruler of England.
Richard's brief reign, a matter of only seven months ending in his
abdication, made him the object of popular contempt and the butt of
many jokes. The unfortunate Dick's "hatband" was his crown, and the
"tightness" was the discomfort and apprehension he was presumed to
have felt. Variants on the joke at the time included another phrase
sometimes still heard, "queer as Dick's hatband," referring to the
preposterous course of Richard's reign.

"Tight as Dick's hatband" made the leap across the Atlantic and took
up residence in the American South, where, the Cromwell saga being
largely unknown, it was taken as a folk expression denoting extreme
tightness or, sometimes, stinginess. And now, if you'll excuse me, I
have to return something to the store.

I wonder whether "queer as Dick's hatband" might not now occur
occasionally with a new sense, having shifted along with "queer"


>>Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM> wrote: ----------------------
>>"Tight as Dick's hatband"?! Whoa! Far out, man! That's one of my
>>mother's very favorite catch-phrases. I had no idea that it had
>>anything to do with drunkeness till this moment. She used it only
>>to describe something that was liiterally tight: "The skirt that
>>that young gal had on was as tight as Dick's hatband!" I've never
>>heard it or seen it used by anyone else, either in person or in
>>print, before. Till now, my basic impression had been that this was
>>just some otherwise-unknown, East-Texas piney-woods expression. You
>>never know.
>>-Willson [sic]
>>On 5/1/07, Jonathan Lighter  wrote:
>>>  "Tight" basically means "drunk," not "tipsy."  "A little tight,"
>>>which seems to be throwing people off, means "a little drunk."
>>>"Kind of tight" means "kind of drunk."  "Tight as a tick," "...a
>>>drum," "...Dick's hat band," etc., mean "very drunk," not "very
>>>    If I say, "X came in tight," the degree of X's drunkenness goes
>>>unstated, but X is indeed "drunk."
>>>    JL
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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