Interesting facts about drinking from Mark Forsyth's A Short History of Drunkenness, a book all about mankind's love of booze - from our primate ancestors to Prohibition
1. The Aztecs disapproved of drunkenness, and the punishment for those caught was public strangulation; unless you were an aristocrat, in which case you could be strangled discreetly in your own home.
2. There’s no Italian word for ‘hangover’. Well... sort of. Technically, you could say postumi della sbornia, but nobody does. The reason for this is quite simple: no Italian man would ever admit to having a hangover.
3. The Hungarian for hangover is másnaposság, which may not sound that great, until you realise that it’s pronounced 'mashnaposhag' – which is pretty much the perfect word for it. Hungarian spelling, though, is a cunning ploy to disguise forever the pronunciation of their language.
4. When the Ancient Persians had to make an important political decision, they would debate it twice: once drunk and once sober. If they came to the same conclusion both times, they acted.
5. According to Greek myth, Dionysus, god of wine and drunkenness, came from the East and conquered the whole world, except for the British Isles.
6. The first depiction of a human drinking alcohol is of a woman. The Venus of Laussel is a limestone relief from 25,000 years ago showing a woman holding a drinking horn to her mouth.
7. Australia was conceived by the British government as a dry colony, where beer-sodden former criminals would learn the joys of teetotalism. This may not have worked.
8. In Ancient China people got drunk in order to communicate with the spirits of their ancestors in wine-fuelled seances.
9. Saint Benedict gave his monks a ration of one bottle of wine per day. Unless it was hot, in which case they got more.
10. The Norse god Odin didn’t eat any food and survived entirely on wine (not beer or mead: wine). His name can be translated as The Ecstatic One (probably for this reason).
11. Medieval taverns didn’t sell beer. They only sold wine. For beer, you had to go to an alehouse.
12. In 18th century London gin-makers used to flavour their produce with sulphuric acid to give it a kick.
When the Ancient Persians had to make a political decision, they debated it once drunk, once sober. If they came to the same conclusion both times, they acted
13. In 1808 Australia had a military coup fuelled by rum and sparked by a dispute over some distillation vats. It is known to historians as The Rum Rebellion.
14. At the time of his death, George Washington owned the largest distillery in the USA.
15. In 1914 Tsar Nicholas II outlawed the sale of vodka in Russia. Four years later, he was dead.
16. The famous bat-wing doors you associate with Wild West saloons never actually existed.
17. Queen Victoria liked to drink whisky and claret. Mixed.
18. The animal with the strongest head for alcohol by bodyweight is the Malaysian tree shrew.
19. The people of Zumbagua in Ecuador believe that vomiting caused by drunkenness will feed the spirits of the dead.
20. There were no pubs in England before the fourteenth century.
More about the book
By the author of the Sunday Times no. 1 bestseller The Etymologicon
Almost every culture on earth has drink, and where there's drink there's drunkenness. But in every age and in every place drunkenness is a little bit different. It can be religious, it can be sexual, it can be the duty of kings or the relief of peasants. It can be an offering to the ancestors, or a way of marking the end of a day's work. It can send you to sleep, or send you into battle.
A Short History of Drunkenness traces humankind's love affair with booze from our primate ancestors through to Prohibition, answering every possible question along the way: What did people drink? How much? Who did the drinking? Of the many possible reasons, why? On the way, learn about the Neolithic Shamans, who drank to communicate with the spirit world (no pun intended), marvel at how Greeks got giddy and Romans got rat-arsed, and find out how bars in the Wild West were never quite like in the movies.
This is a history of the world at its inebriated best.
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