The word booze has been around since the fourteenth century. It comes from the Middle Dutch verb busen, meaning to drink heavily, and first appears in English as a verb spelled bouse. This is in a satirical poem titled Heil Seint Michel, found in the manuscript London, British Library, MS Harley 913 and dating to sometime before 1325:
Hail ȝe holi monkes … Late and raþe ifillid of ale and wine! Depe cun ȝe bouse.
(Hail the holy monks … Slowly and before long filled with ale and wine! Deeply can they booze.)1
The noun appears at about the same time. From the poem Mon in þe Mone, found in London, British Library, MS Harley 2253 and from c.1325:
Drynke to hym deorly of fol god bous … When þat he is dronke ase a dreynt mous.
(Drink to him copiously of full, good booze … When he is drunk as a drunken mouse.)2
Folklore has it that the word booze comes from a Philadelphia distiller named E.C. Booz who prospered around 1840 by selling a popular spirit in bottles shaped like a log cabin. As we have seen, this is not correct. In addition to the British citations dating back to the fourteenth century, it has been in use in America since the early eighteenth century. Benjamin Franklin used the term boozy in 1722,3 and Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary has entries for boose and bouse meaning “to drink hard; to guzzle,” and for boosy meaning “a little intoxicated; merry with liquor.”4
1Middle English Dictionary, bousen (v.), 18 Dec 2001, University of Michigan, accessed 29 Dec 2008 <http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/m/mec/med-idx?type=byte&byte=19997078>.
2MED, bous (n.), <http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/m/mec/med-idx?type=byte&byte=19996389>.
3Historical Dictionary of American Slang, v. 1, A-G, edited by Jonathan Lighter (New York: Random House, 1994), 247.
4Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), boo-boo-boo.
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton