And in Phil’s above posting he asked:Incidentally, anyone in Wordwizard land who can come up with an actual early (pre-1950s) example of PISSED/TIGHT AS A MUTE/NEWT, and not just slang dictionaries and other sources spouting 'Victorian period,' should immediately make it known – it may be your ticket to fame and fortune!
Here is my response to both:Is it possible that the original phrase was "drunk as a mute/newt" and the "pissed" version became popular later? Perhaps you're only finding "pissed as a newt" later because "pissed" only became really popular later.
I’m ready for fame and fortune because in my web wanderings I hit the mother lode for TIGHT AS A NEWT:
So the order of appearance of three of the expressions at least as my above searches indicated is:<1935 “She was as tight as a newt and fell against that bar.”—Shaby Tiger by H. Spring[/i]>
<1944 “I should like to satisfy the curiosity of an inquirer who wants an explanation of the expression, current in many circles, ‘Tight as a newt.’”— The Spectator (London), page 164> [[current in many circles seems to imply that the expression was probably new. And old Eric Partridge seems to have gotten in right – first came tight as a newt to be followed by pissed as a newt. And he had the time frame about right with pissed as a newt becoming more popular after WWII. And he didn’t even have access to the Internet!]]
<1948 “My thought was rather with fiddles and cellos sounding through our old house and with dear Anatole, tight as a newt, exasperated as a saint at the sight of sin, picking me up and dropping me into the horse trough.”—There is no Armour by H. Spring, page 176>
<1954 “I don't think I've ever been properly drunk in my life — not what could be called as tight as a newt — though I've been pretty cheerful pretty often."—Museum Pieces by W. Plomer, page 225>
<1962 “And in a fine state, my dear fellow! The very stones themselves would have been moved to compassion by the spectacle he presented! He was as tight as a newt! Absolutely sozzled!”—Bitter Waters by L. Pirandello, page 17> [[sozzled [mid 19th century and still in use - Cassell's]]]
<1970 “I heard one person say I was drunk, another that I had hardly drunk anything, a third, who could not possibly have known, that I was ‘tight as a newt,’ which I shall not forget quickly.”—Writing in Holland and Flanders, Issue 29, page 63>
<1994 “Of course I was mostly tight as a newt when I was in Florence.”—Leila: Further in the Life and Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman by J. P. Donleavy, page 121>
<2003 “Jonny Wilkinson, the prodigy expected to bring home the World Cup, is as tight as a drum. On the odd night, might it not be better if he were tight as a newt?”—Daily Mail (London), 13 November>
<2009 “I've seen Alf as tight as a newt, an' 'e didn't miss a step, never mind fell.”—A Christmas Promise by A. Perry, page 29>
TIGHT AS A NEWT – 1935 (Novel: Shabby Tiger)
PISSED AS A NEWT – 1957 (Novel;: World of Sussie Wong in OED)
DRUNK AS A NEWT – 1957 (Novel: Sugar for the Horse)
Unfortunately I could find only one undated reference to mute meaning drunk in the following list I quoted above: mute, flogged, maggoted, shitfaced, off one's nut, plastered or pissed as a newt on the website. australianbeers.com
So, at least according to my quote finds, the TIGHT phrase is the oldest (1935) with PISSED (1957) and DRUNK (1957) came in tied for second. So Eric Partridge had the dating and order of the TGHT and PISSED expressions about right. The big surprise to me was that DRUNK was not the earliest as Phil had suggested. But he was right that PISSED, in the end, became the most popular. It’s too bad that my seemingly logical MUTE idea didn’t pan out. But I suppose you win some and you lose some.
Phil, that’s one hell of a list for drunk in the above link you provided, and to think that it only covers prhases beginning in A & B, which just goes to validate my above statement, “there is no end to the synonyms for drunk.”
Ken – July 5, 2010