bomber (beer)

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jul 28 18:28:11 UTC 2013

A dispute has erupted on Beer Advocate forums on the origin of the term
"bomber" in reference to 22-oz. bottles of beer. The term seems to be
fairly narrow and does not apply to 1/2-liter or 750cc-champagne-style
bottles. For obvious reasons, there are strong suspicions of
aviation-related origin, although no one has been able to point as to
why "bomber" might be an appropriate term. A couple of "B-22"
suggestions quickly got shut down when it was pointed out B-22 was never
a production bomber.

I have not researched the issue other than checking the OED, which has a
couple of "bomber" offshoots without discussing the origin--"marijuana
cigarette" (presumably an inordinately large joint) from the 1950s, and
barbiturates from mid-to-late-1960s. UD lists the beer definition (also
suggesting that wine magnums are identified as "bombers"), along with
"large joint" and "ecstasy pills" and a bunch of other definitions that
appear to be made up (other than one for shortening of "bomber jacket").
Other bottle sizes are "forty" (obvious), "growler" (two liter,
half-gallon) and "half-growler" or "mini-growler" (all three are applied
to 1-liter or 1-quart bottle, usually screw-top). The 750cc bottle does
not have a special name, except in Australia where it's a "tallie" and
Canada and South Africa where it is supposedly (Wiki) a "quart". Of
course, in the US and UK, a 750cc bottle of liquor is a "fifth". I've
also recently encountered the use of "handle" in reference to 1.75-L
liquor bottles, irrespectively of them having a handle or being made of
plastic or glass.

I would appreciate any help in sorting all of this out.


PS: Most dictionaries only have two entries for "bomber", viz. 1) a
military aircraft designed for dropping bombs, and 2) a person who
makes, plants or sets off bombs (with extended variants, e.g. Unabomber,
suicide bomber). RH Unabridged and MWOLD recognize the shortening of
"bomber jacket". and WordNet allow for a regionalism for
"a large sandwich" on a long crusty roll  (sub, grinder, hoagie, hero,
torpedo?). MWOLD also adds successful long-distance shooter in
basketball (cf. "bomb"==big shot).

The American Dialect Society -

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