pissed as a newt

Discuss word origins and meanings.

Re: pissed as a newt

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Jul 05, 2010 7:38 pm

In my previous posting I said:
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!
And in Phil’s above posting he asked:
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.
Here is my response to both:

I’m ready for fame and fortune because in my web wanderings I hit the mother lode for TIGHT AS A NEWT:
<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>
So the order of appearance of three of the expressions at least as my above searches indicated is:

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.”
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Ken – July 5, 2010
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Re: pissed as a newt

Post by Phil White » Mon Jul 05, 2010 7:45 pm

Right at the bottom of the page you will find the links to the other letters of the alphabet.
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Re: pissed as a newt

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Jul 05, 2010 8:08 pm

Holy moly! That's even more unbelievable. I 'm going to bookmark that page so when I need it I'll be able to find just the right drunk word for the occasion. Of course, it would probably take me a few days to make it through the list. I'll bet that Wiz already knows them all by heart. (<:)

Thanks for the heads up,
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Ken – July 5, 2010
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Re: pissed as a newt

Post by Phil White » Mon Jul 05, 2010 8:45 pm

I make it 4512 expressions for "drunk" recorded on that site. Eat your hearts out, Eskimos.
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Re: pissed as a newt

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sat Jul 10, 2010 5:57 am

Above, for drunk, I listed DRUNK AS A SWINE (or HOG, PIG, SOW). And by happenstance, as I lay in my reclining chair with Sprinkles the pussy cat fast asleep on my chest, I came upon the following in Michael Pollan's discussion (also author of The Botany of Desire) of' ultra-organic farming:
<2006 "There's one more secret ingredient Joel adds to each layer of the cake [[farm compost consisting of layered cow manure and wood chips]]: a few bucketfuls of corn. All winter long the layered bedding composts, in the process generates heat to warm the barn (thus reducing the animals' feed requirements) . . . and fermenting the corn. . . Why the corn? Because there's nothing a pig enjoys more than forty-proof corn, and there's nothing he's better equipped to do than root it out with his powerful snout and exquisite sense of smell. . . As soon as the cows head out to pasture in the spring, several dozen pigs come in, proceeding systematically to turn and aerate the compost in their quest for kernels of alcoholic corn."—The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, page 217
So, it appears that pigs actually do like alcohol or, at least, alcohol-laced corn. But I'm not sure they would show the same enthusiasm for a double scotch on the rocks or a martini. But, if there was enough fermenting corn around, they would probably get pissed as a newt!
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Ken — July 9, 2010
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Re: pissed as a newt

Post by Bobinwales » Sat Jul 10, 2010 9:05 pm

Perhaps WoZ can enlighten us further, but I did once read that koalas cannot digest gum leaves without having them ferment in their stomachs, which means that the things are permanently pissed.

I'm coming back as a koala.
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Bob in Wales

Re: pissed as a newt

Post by Phil White » Sun Jul 11, 2010 1:25 am

Bobinwales wrote:I'm coming back as a koala.
Perhaps you already have and are only dreaming you are a Welshman.
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Re: pissed as a newt

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Jul 11, 2010 3:27 am

Phil makes an excellent point. Wish I'd thought of it.

If Phil is right, Bob, you are a koala dreaming you're a Welshman wanting to be a koala.

Do you see where I'm going with this? ;-)
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Re: pissed as a newt

Post by Bobinwales » Sun Jul 11, 2010 10:15 am

I suppose that it is just about bearable.
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Re: pissed as a newt

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sun Jul 11, 2010 1:01 pm

Ken said:

... so perhaps this is one of those examples of a phrase being passed down by grandmothers, etc., but never making it into print (Wiz will love that) except in the mispronounced form.
.. awh Ken you are taking all the fun out of my reposte ..

WoZ who likes it oral
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: pissed as a newt

Post by John Barker » Thu Apr 07, 2016 10:39 pm

Re. Pissed as a newt ...

Sorry to end the mystery but the answer is very simple.

Anyone who has observed newts very closely, will know that they go through spells of appearing to be drunk, very drunk.

Here is another puzzle for you, what is really meant but someone being a "nutter" and what sort of person are they?

Start by forgetting mental disturbance or illness and start with a clean sheet.
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