The explosion of craft beer has likewise expanded knowledge of beer terminology. If you’re even causally into beer, you likely know terms such as IBU, barrel-aged, and growler. You know that milk, oatmeal and Russian imperial are types of stout. You’d never confuse a beer bar with a microbrew, and you know which one sells growlers. These terms are widely used by beer enthusiasts from coast-to-coast.
Other beer-related terms don’t get around as much: like the ones recorded in the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE).
DARE is a remarkable collection—founded by Frederic Cassidy and currently edited by Joan Hall—of regional American language: terms and idioms that are not used nationally. Many of the terms are folksy and charming as all get-out, such as tooth carpenter (a dentist), Sunday cow (a euphemism of bull), build a pigpen (cheat or swindle) and ho-dad with a shufflin’ rod (a smartass answer to a child who asks, “What are you making?”). DARE has been collecting terms and example sentences since 1963, and after many struggles with funding, it’s recently published its fifth and final volume, plus a digital version.
The words and expressions in DARE literally go all over the map, covering plenty of subject matter—including beer. Some terms are about beer, while many use beer figuratively to describe things that are not made with water, yeast, malt and hops. Both types are a testament to the enduring influence of our favorite beverage. Here’s a few that stand out.
We all know excessive beer drinking isn’t the healthiest habit in the world, and the Milwaukee goiter is one of the greatest risks: it’s a beer belly, which is also called a German goiter.
This term is in the same vein as root beer: in Maine, a soft beer is a soft drink. Sometimes beer is used to describe a beverage that’s even further removed from actual beer. For example, in Minnesota, cat beer, despite the name, is not a liquefied version of catnip. It’s just milk. That term has been found in central Minnesota and seems to have had some currency among the military in World War II.
Speaking of milk, this term is an Arkansas euphemism for beer, and I reckon it would go well with Swedish pancakes (not a euphemism). Other euphemisms for beer in DARE include cold tea, Milwaukee cider and Sunday milkshake, a South Carolina term for beer illegally sold on the Sabbath.
Described in an 1888 DARE use as “a mixture of bad beer and worse whiskey,” an 1898 example paints a yucky picture: “After supper, following pay-day, a dozen boarders had formed a circle around a bucket containing a vile, poisonous liquor called polinki.” If you simply must have polinky, head to Pennsylvania.
This hangover cure has a silly name, but if you ever have a few too many in New Mexico, you might want to try it: hucklemybutt consists of beer, eggs, and brandy (or bourbon, milk and ice, depending on who you ask).
In Wisconsin, a picnic is a large bottle of beer. An example from 1997 explains the probable origin: “She said the bottle in question was a ‘picnic,’ or one of the large bottles of beer large enough to serve everyone at a (small) picnic.”
Many of us would consider beer a fine meal, but that’s not the meaning of this term, which is used in North Carolina for a type of moonshine. An explanation from 1985 mentions some amusing synonyms: “It is called still beer, or meal beer, or meal mammy. ‘They call it meal mammy,’ says Garland, ‘because after it’s processed it’s so strong it’ll make you fight your mammy.’”
There are some pretty oddball beers out there these days: I think the weirdest one I’ve heard of is Rogue’s Beard Beer, which, as the name suggests, is made with yeast from Brewmaster John Maier’s beard. (No, that wasn’t gross enough to stop me from trying it.) Thankfully, turkey-and-turd beer isn’t a literal term. It’s just a fertilizer made from manure and water, at least in New England.
For crying in the beer!
Used in Minnesota, this is one of many exclamations—like “For crying out loud!” and “Crikey!”—that are used to avoid saying Christ’s name. This kind of expression tends to have many variations, and DARE also records “For crying in the bucket!” and “For crying in the sink!” The title of a 2010 blog post indicates this expression may be a little old-fashioned: “Oh, For Crying in the Beer! (That’s What My Grandma Used to Say).”
These terms are a reminder that English is as vast and wide as this huge country, and beer has influenced every nook and cranny. Beer has made its mark everywhere—and that’s no polinky.
Mark Peters is a freelance writer and humorist. He writes regularly for McSweeney’s, Psychology Today and Visual Thesaurus. His favorite brewery is Three Floyds, and he can usually be found playing pinball at Headquarters Beercade in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @wordlust.