Ann Burlingham has written to report on a conversation with a co-worker who asked about sauced meaning ‘drunk’. When Ann told him that the word was soused, he maintained that he’d never heard that word (or the noun souse) in his 32 years of life.

But sauced ‘drunk’ is all over the net, though not in OED2 (which has only the sense ‘seasoned, flavored’) or NOAD2 or AHD4. It is in the Random House Dictionary (2009) and at least one slang dictionary, Spears’s Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions (4th ed., 2007).

Given the noun sauce ‘alcoholic liquor’ (slang, originally U.S., attested in OED2 from 1940 on), occurring in idioms like on the sauce and hit the sauce, sauced meaning ‘drunk’ makes a lot of sense. In fact, it could arise in two different ways.

First, some Google hits for {“was so sauced”} (chosen to avoid most instances of sauced ‘seasoned’):

We saw him perform years ago and he was drunk as a freakin skunk. He was having drinks on stage and was so sauced that he even laid down on the stage and sang for us. (link)

I helped Claire get her shirt buttoned. She was so sauced that she flirted with me. (Harry Lee Kraus, All I’ll Ever Need, p. 268)

And forget the “great father, phenomenal lawyer” crap. The guy was so sauced he couldn’t control his vehicle. (link)

In raw ghits, {“was so sauced”} (12,300) comes in just a bit short of {“was so soused”} (14,800).

One route to sauced ‘drunk’ is by direct conversion of the noun sauce ‘alcoholic liquor’ to a participial adjective. Another route is as an eggcorn for soused, created by people who found soused opaque. (For the record, the participial adjective soused is attested in the sense ‘steeped in pickle, pickled’ from the 16th century — it’s derived from the verb souse ‘to pickle’, attested from the 14th century — and with reference to liquor from the 17th century. Note that pickled ‘drunk, drunken’ is itself attested from 1842 on.)

(The RHD suggests both soused and sauce ‘liquor’ as contributing to sauced ‘drunk’.)

Whatever the route to sauced ‘drunk’ — and different people might have taken different routes — that presumably happened a while ago, so that people using the word now know it simply as a piece of slang for ‘drunk’.

2 Responses to “sauced”

  1. Greg Morrow Says:

    “Sauced” routinely shows up in New York Times crossword puzzles as a synonym for “drunk”.

  2. Stan Says:

    I presumed at first that sauced had come from sauce, then wondered whether there was a connection to soused. Perhaps there were multiple paths, as you suggest. Souse has a few other meanings in Irish English. Quoting from Bernard Share’s Slanguage:

    souse [adv. & vb.] (Ulster).
    1. [vb., poss. onomat.]. Fall heavily with some weight.
    2. [adv., <1.]. Suddenly, without warning. 1908 Lynn Doyle, Ballygullion: ‘”Chew [q.v.], Chew, sir!” shouts the brother-in-law [to the dog], jumpin’ back off the road; and wi’ that he steps, souse! intil Pether’s half-made well.’
    3. [vb.]. Dig sods from a furrow between ridges and add to ridge. 1979 Paddy Tunney, The Stone Fiddle: ‘The coping or sousing of an acre of lea, when the keen cutting edge of the McMahon [spade] was thrust through rush roots…’

    I don’t have a citation or vernacular example of the first meaning (fall heavily), but it calls to mind a line from Flann O’Brien’s The Poor Mouth: “I forget whether he sat or fell but he alighted on the floor near me with a terrible thump which set the house dancing.”

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