Many of us use the word GROG as a slang term for any alcoholic drink. This article explains the fascinating story of how that strange word, and other drink related expressions, came into the English language.
James Cook was among the first to use the word GROG aboard the Endeavour, as he sailed the world, eventually claiming the east coast of Australia. The word GROG was first documented 250 years ago in 1770.
When Cook set sail on the Endeavour in 1769, with a crew of 94 sailors and special scientists, his huge load of cargo included 604 Gallons of Beer and 4 Ton of Rum in Barrels.
It is an interesting fact that very few sailors could swim, including James Cook himself. It was considered unlucky aboard old sailing ships, because if you fell overboard it could not stop or turn quickly to pick you up……. so better to drown quickly rather than drift for days.
DAILY RUM & BEER
A daily Rum ration for British navy sailors was first introduced in 1655. In the absence of reliable and safe drinking water, sailors were issued a daily ration of half pint of Rum (300ml.), and a Gallon (3.8 litres) of Beer every day. This daily issue was codified in 1731 and remained in place, but in ever reducing amounts, for almost 240 years.
British sailors enjoyed a drink. Then they enjoyed another drink! However, some would sell their ration to others, who enjoyed it even more. “What shall we do with the drunken sailor” is a song with a long tradition and naval history.
British Vice Admiral Edward Vernon was in the West Indies in 1740’s, the heartland of Rum production. He became increasingly concerned about the behaviour and health of sailors receiving their large strong daily rum ration. He decided on the very unpopular step of mixing Rum with water prior to issue. This extended the liquor drinking volume, but achieved little else in terms of behaviour. Vernon became much disliked.
Vice Admiral Vernon always wore a very old, and much loved, coat made of Wool, Silk and Mohair, made waterproof with the application of gum, making it tough, hardwearing and very scratchy. The cloth was known as GROGRAM.
This old coat was his uniform, in all weathers, and sailors gave him the nickname OLD GROGRAM, often shortened to OLD GROG.
Because of his unpopular decision, over time the word GROG came to be a word used for any kind of alcoholic drink. You probably use the word yourself …..now you know its origin.
The daily issue of a half pint of Rum continued until 1823 when the ration was cut by half. Then again, 47 years later, in 1850, the daily allowance was again cut by half. At this stage, it was regarded more as TOT, being just a mug or cup. Some senior readers of this article, who were in the navy until 50 years ago, may have enjoyed it. On 31st July 1970 the last daily Rum ration was issued. That is known as BLACK TOT DAY.
There are many another fascinating old words in common usage that relate to sailors, beer, rum and drinking. Lord Nelson is famous for his defeat of the combined French and Spanish fleets, losing his life to a bullet, at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It was decided to preserve his body in a barrel of Rum for the journey home to give him a ceremonial burial. It seems that thirsty sailors sampled some of the barrel in transit, which gave rise to the expressions “Nelsons Blood” or “Tapping the Admiral” with reference to Rum.
Another word is SCUTTLEBUTT , which some pommie readers may know, is still used today to refer to gossip or rumour. The word SCUTTLE is a term used when a ship is deliberately sunk by putting a hole in it. A BUTT is a large wooden Barrel usually for holding water or collecting rainwater. Over the many years that sailors received their daily Beer and Rum rations aboard ship, they assembled on deck and queued up around serving barrels. During this popular and sociable daily ritual, the men chatted and exchanged stories, which would often be classified as rumours of gossip. Hence, the word SCUTTLEBUT got into our vocabulary.
Today that same behaviour goes on, but now it around the water cooler at the office.
Sailors often had their own personal drinking receptacle or mug, which acquired the interesting name of FANNY CUP.
In 1867 a sweet young eight year old FANNY ADAMS was abducted, brutally murdered and dismembered. Parts of her body were widely scattered and not all were found. It was a horrific case, and the criminal, a solicitor’s clerk, was eventually arrested and hung. The case was amongst the most brutal of crimes in England, and remained a topic of concern and gossip for many years.
In 1869 a new daily ration of tinned mutton was introduced for British navy sailors. It was not a popular dish, and sailor’s distain for this processed tinned mutton started rumours (Scuttlebutt) that parts of Fanny ADAMS may have found their way into the tins. The metal containers were found to be ideal receptacles as mess tins or collecting Grog rations from the Tub, and became known as “Fanny Cups”.
We still use the term Sweet Fanny Adams or even “Sweet FA” to refer to things that are non-existent, mediocre or minimal.
The sailor who was selected to carefully distribute the daily Rum ration to his men was known as the Rum Boss. Any small amount left over after distributing Rum to his mess group was known as “Queens Share” or simply “QUEENS” and was saved for a special occasion.
An Admiralty gift of an extra Grog ration was sometimes given to navy vessels at a time of national pride, or on completion of a difficult task. Such a job could include the challenging task of “Splicing the Mainbrace”, which is a term some people still use when having a toast or special drink.
Smuggling or stealing Rum was a regular and profitable pastime for many . Customs officials spent a lot of time searching for such contraband and coined the term RUMMAGE when they were looking everywhere for hidden goods. We still use that term today.
Booze is a word that is even older than Grog, and dates back to the 13th Century. It originates from an old middle Dutch word BUSEN or BOUSEN meaning excessive drinking. In the 16th Century, when Dutch and English sailors had sailing encounters, the word became anglicised and corrupted to the word BOOZE.
The term is used for excess drinking, and people being a BOOZER. Since the 1700’s the word Booze became used for any king of alcoholic drink, in much the same way as Grog. You become GROGGY if you drink too much ……and are known as a BOOZER.
TOO MUCH DRINK
Other expressions like “Three sheets to the wind” are still widely used to describe a drunk person. This also has a nautical origin referring to sheets (ropes) not properly secured, caught by a strong wind, resulting in loss of control of the ship.
Many other terms commonly used are Stoned, Sloshed, Plastered, Tipsy and Tanked. I am sure there are others that you know. They all have interesting origins, most of which relate back to sailors and ships.