Tight = drunk

James C Stalker stalker at MSU.EDU
Thu May 3 03:37:22 UTC 2007

My mother, central KY, b. 1919, used "tight as Dick's hatband" in the stingy


Laurence Horn writes:

> 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
>> England.
>> --Chalrie
>> ___________________________________________________________
> 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"
> itself.
> LH
>>> 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
>>>> tipsy."
>>>>    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

James C. Stalker
Department of English
Michigan State University

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

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