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Who Is Cootie Brown, and Why Is He Always Drunk?

I grew up in Florence, South Carolina, a tiny speck on the world map. MTM likes to tell people we’re going to Florence for the weekend. He leaves off the “South Carolina” part. More exotic if people think we’re shooting over to Italy to admire architecture and sculptures of naked men.

Florence has a unique expression, though. “Drunk as Cootie Brown.” Believe me, going to Francis Marion University, this was a saying I heard every day. Someone in one of my classes was always, ALWAYS as drunk (or high) as Cootie Brown. There was very little else to do to entertain oneself in Florence, South Carolina in college, unless you were me and amused yourself by watching said drunken Cootie Browns without participating in their mayhem.

When I was on my trip with Alison a couple of weeks ago, she bastardized the Cootie Brown expression by introducing his kissing cousin Cooter. Drunk as Cooter Brown. She said this more than once on our trip. NOT that she was applying it to anyone in particular.


Especially not to me.

Alison and I both grew up in Florence. We didn’t know each other when we lived there. Still, I find it funny that girls who grew up two or three neighborhoods apart have varying descriptions for gauging drunkenness. Cootie versus Cooter. Which dude was drunker? Why are these Browns the poster family for inebriation in Florence, South Carolina? Why couldn’t people in Florence get ‘drunk as skunks’ just like everyone else in the world? Have you ever heard this expression or one like it, Dear Reader?

Too Much is Just Enough: Unique Gauges of Drunk

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  1. I had never heard the term either with cootie or cooter, I grew up hearing drunk as a skunk and that seemed to be the standard, although for the life of me, I never actually met a drunk skunk.

    Here are just a smidgen of some other “drunk as a —–” terms. And these are just the “C’s”.

    Caged – A “cager” is a drunkard. US, 1900s.
    Called the wharf cat
    Calling Earl/Ralph on the big white phone – Drunk and vomiting.
    Came home by the villages – Probably implies that one stopped at a few taverns in the “villages” on the way.
    Candy – Irish, 1800s. Rarely heard outside of Ireland.
    Canned – Tipsy. Possibly means turned to liquid, or from the use of “can” to mean a drinking vessel. Also, “a can on” is drunkenness. Originally US, spread to Great Britain and South Africa; 1900s.
    Canned up – British army slang. Early 1900s, esp. the 1920s.
    Canned (up) to the crow’s nest – The “crow’s nest” is the lookout atop the mast of an old sailing ship. Hence, very drunk.
    Canon – Possibly from French “un canon,” a glass of wine consumed at a wine shop; or from German “cannon,” a drinking cup. Alternately, from “cannoned,” as in “shot.” British, late 1800s.
    Canonized – See above.
    Cannon – Variant of “Canon.” British, late 1800s.
    Can’t bite one’s thumb
    Can’t drive a nail
    Can’t drive a Tonka truck – Derived form the fact that inebriation impairs one’s ability to drive.
    Can’t find one’s ass with both/two hands
    Can’t find the floor
    Can’t hit the ground with one’s hat
    Can’t lie on the ground without holding on
    Can’t say National Intelligencer – Euphemistic.
    Can’t see – Either from “blind,” or a shortening of the following term.
    Can’t see a hole in a ladder – Heavily intoxicated. British & US, since the 1800s.
    Can’t see through a ladder
    Can’t sport a right light
    Can’t sport a right line – Unable to walk straight. Oxford University slang, 1770 to 1800.
    Can’t take it – Implies that one gets drunk easily.
    Can’t walk a chalk – From the traditional test police officers use to determine if a DUI suspect is indeed intoxicated. The “chalk” is the straight line drawn for the suspect to follow.
    Can’t wipe one’s ass with a bedsheet
    Capernoited – From Scottish slang for “muddleheaded.” Also, a “caper” is a drinking spree, and “caper juice” is whisky. US, 1800s.
    Capoonkle – Bahamian slang used esp. in Nassau.
    Cap-sick – British, 1600s to 1800s. Cf. “Crop’sick.”
    Capped off
    Capsized – Because a capsized ship is one that has tipped over.
    Cargoed – Cf. “Loaded.”
    Carousing – Drinking deeply or freely. Believed to be from German for “all out” or “completely out.” In German, “garaustrinken” means “drink it all,” and thus “garaus” is the equivalent of “bottoms up” or “chug-a-lug.” Another theory is that it comes from Danish “rouse,” a large glass for making toasts, and “carouse” meant to refill the glass. First appeared in the late 1500s.
    Carrying a full cargo
    Carrying a heavy load
    Carrying a load – See “Loaded.” Early 1900s.
    Carrying a tight load
    Carrying ballast – Holding one’s liquor well. Someone who has consumed a lot of liquor without getting too sloshed can “carry lots of ballast.”
    Carrying something heavy – Refers to difficulty in moving. US, early 1900s.
    Carrying the dark dog on one’s back – May refer to the “black dog,” delirium tremens.
    Carrying too much sail
    Carrying two/three red lights – Based on the signal for a ship that is out of control. British & US nautical, WWII.
    Cast – Very drunk. Anglo-Irish, early 1900s.
    Casting up one’s accounts – Drunk and vomiting.
    Cat – Cf. “Whipcat.” Early 1700s. Noted by Benjamin Franklin.
    Catoonkle – Variation of “Capoonkle.”
    Catsood – Corruption of French “quatre sous” (four sous). Means drunk on four sous- worth of liquor (a sou is an archaic French coin). A “catsoos” is a drink of booze. British military, 1900s.
    Caught a fox – Very drunk. 1600s to 1800s.
    Caught off one’s hobbyhorse
    Caught one – To “catch one” is to get drunk on beer.
    Caught the flavor – Since the late 1800s, now obsolete.
    Caught the Irish flu
    Caught up with one – As drunk as someone else who had a head start in drinking.
    Celebrating – Drinking intoxicants to excess. Perhaps because liquor is often available on festive occasions, and consumed in great quantities to celebrate happy special events.
    Certified drunk
    Channels under – Nautical.
    Charged up – High. May have come from drug slang.
    Chasing the duck
    Chasing the kettle

    July 28, 2011
    • Wow! Lou! You are bringing the knowledge this morning. :-)

      July 28, 2011
      • Google is my best friend. :)

        July 28, 2011
      • I actually sat here and read every one of these. Here is an even more exhaustive list, by none other than one of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin.

        July 28, 2011
      • Love the Ben Franklin list, very exhaustive. Maybe we should start a new one called “drunk as a cootchie.

        July 28, 2011
      • Actually, if you read the urban dictionary link all the way to the end, Cooter Brown can in fact refer to that part of the female anatomy………

        July 28, 2011
  2. Compared to Cheraw, South Carolina, Florence was big time. I remember being excited about going to Magnolia Mall for the first time. My sister went to Francis Marion, I’ll have to ask her about the expression, but it’s pretty cool.

    July 28, 2011
    • Did you go to Magnolia Mall before they put the crazy colored signs on it or after? I thought when it first opened, it was tasteful, but then they put up the ‘vomit of color’ signs, and I never wanted to go in there again.

      July 28, 2011
  3. Aguess #

    I never heard the phrase until I met you, but there was a great bar in new Orleans called Cooter Browns. So either it was someone from Florence, SC who opened it, or Cooter Brown was a drunk that really got around!

    July 28, 2011
    • Cooter is the more common expression, apparently. The Wikipedia link in the post above is pretty interesting reading. Here it is again:

      So, it is more of a Southern expression than a Florence one. I bet someone from Denmark says it.

      July 28, 2011
  4. Erin Roscoe #

    This is from the urban dictionary…Very interesting…never knew where the saying came from, either!

    July 28, 2011
    • Gotta love the urban dictionary. That is one of the funniest things I have read on it. Thanks for posting that link.

      July 28, 2011

    “I first heard that expression said by Dolly Parton’s character in “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” The saying is listed in “Whistlin’ Dixie: A Dictionary of Southern Expressions” by Robert Hendrickson (Pocket Books, New York, 1993): “drunk as Cooter Brown; drunker than Cooter Brown — Very drunk indeed. Who the proverbial Cooter Brown is no one seems to know, but this may have originally been a black expression from the Carolinas. ‘In Texas we’d call him drunker than Cooter Brown.'”
    Listed along with this were some other interesting phrases: “drunk as a coot,” the coot “being an American duck noted for its laugh-like cry” and “drunker than who shot John.” I heard something similar to that last expression in a movie. Two family members started arguing and the mother said, “Don’t start that ‘who shot John.'””

    Growing up in Massachusetts we went with “drunk as a lord” – we still don’t like Tories… :)

    July 28, 2011
    • I can just hear Dolly Parton belting it out now. That’s awesome. Thanks for even more enlightening information on the subject of intoxication.

      “Drunk as a lord” could’ve been used in the South, too, for all I know. We certainly had Tories way back when.

      July 28, 2011
  6. Amber Deutsch #

    Growing up in Mt. Pleasant, we always had lots of ways to say it, though I will admit I never met Cootie or Cooter, brothers in crime. I always heard the frat boy terms – sloshed, smashed, trashed … nothing very interesting or creative, but always violent imagery, it seems. I always admired the British term “tight” but have yet to work it into a converation…

    July 28, 2011
    • My brain is failing me more than usual today, because there was a movie in which a character kept saying the word “tight” with a funny accent. When I tried to Google said movie phrase, I got a whole page of porn links. I don’t know why you don’t just let it rip in conversation when we see you on Saturday. At least, everyone at the shindig will know what you mean. :)

      July 28, 2011
  7. Jessi #

    I’ve heard the expression “drunk as Cooter Brown” all of my life. My grandmother said it often. She was born in West Texas, in 1903, so I thought it was a purely southern thing. I never heard anyone say Cootie.

    July 28, 2011
    • Jessi, Cootie is apparently the bastardization of the phrase. I started using it because I heard a friend growing up say “He’s as drunk as Cootie Brown,” and I thought it was funny. This friend always said ‘Cootie.’ I need to ask her where she heard it.

      Although, my extensive (ha) research for this post indicates a dive in Johnson City, TN called Cootie Brown’s. I am sure the ‘Cootie’ got introduced because of the way ‘Cooter’ sounded in a particular Southern accent, and it branched off from there.

      July 28, 2011
  8. I’m with Lou – in Pocatello and in Boise the phrase was drunk as a skunk and if you’ve ever watched a skunk waddle around and how they never move in a straight line perhaps that’s where it came from? Who knows. We used to have a pet skunk. :) Sweet little lady. The only “cootie” I ever heard of is the “cootie bug” and my kids used to play the game when they were a long younger.

    Lou, I am totally amazed at your knowledge and tenacity this morning. I was exhausted (and amused – going to use some of those phrases now) just reading all of it.

    July 28, 2011
    • Lori, Lou amazes everyone. I do not know where he gets his energy. I have never seen a skunk up close, only smelled them. Where my mom grew up in Kentucky, they were called pole cats, not skunks. I didn’t realize they were the same thing until I was almost grown. I never knew they waddled. :)

      July 28, 2011
    • Of course, this is my favorite skunk.

      July 28, 2011
      • Love Pepe Le Pew.
        Do not come wiz me to ze Casbah – we shall make beautiful musicks togezzer right here!
        What is this? Oh, but of course. This little one wish to commit suicide to prove her love for me. What a sweet gesture. Nevertheless, I must prevent it.
        I am ze locksmith of love, no?
        You know, it is possible to be too attractive.
        This little love bundle. Now she is seeking for us a trysting place. Touching, is it not? Come, my little peanut of brittle. I will help you. Wait for me. Wait.

        July 28, 2011
      • I just love the cat in this one. Le pant. Le pew. Le pant. Le pew.

        Of course, the skunk rocks, too.

        July 28, 2011
      • I’d always heard that they were called Pole Cats too. Wonder why that term came up? So a variant on the Cootie Brown thing would be Drunk as a Cootie Brown Pole Cat.

        July 28, 2011
      • Leave it to Google to have an answer for everything…….the origin of the term ‘pole cat':

        July 28, 2011
  9. I have a friend / former board member of the Arts Council who used to say, “over served” which is particularly appropriate for drunkenness.

    July 28, 2011
    • I had a friend who used to say “over served” all the time, too. I always thought it was appropriate.

      July 28, 2011
  10. Ah, Andra, the things one learns after becoming a subscriber to your wonderful musings . . .

    In all my years, I never heard “Can’t find one’s ass with both/two hands” used as a reference to anyone except the poor soul who was one brick short of a load in the intelligence department! Thanks, Lou, for your “googling” expertise. :)

    July 28, 2011
    • Karen, that’s always how I heard that saying applied as well, not in reference to drunkenness.

      July 28, 2011
  11. By the way, to all you younger mamas whose kids played “Cootie” — the original game was launched in 1949. My siblings and I had one and spent many hours giggling over it. At some point, everything old becomes new again! :)

    July 28, 2011
  12. I always thought a cooter was a turtle? And a cootie was something you caught from icky girls. ;)

    I personally think you all, especially Lou, have way too much time on your hands.

    July 28, 2011
    • Yup, according to the Google dictionary…. “Noun: A North American river turtle (genus Pseudemys, family Emydidae) with a dull brown shell and typically having yellow stripes on the head.”

      July 28, 2011
    • My dear deceased (former) mother in law always called turtles cooters.

      July 28, 2011
    • I have never heard the word ‘cooter’ applied to a turtle before today. Fascinating.

      And, I’m glad I’m not too busy to have lunch with you in a few. :)

      July 28, 2011
      • Was that a dig?

        July 28, 2011
      • No. Well, maybe it was a dig at Carnell, since he said we have too much time on our hands. Then, he didn’t show up for lunch.

        July 28, 2011
      • I missed the revelry of everyone’s company. Writing for clients while exciting in some aspects, is not nearly as exciting as lunch with the creative crowd. And I was trying to make a joke and forgot the :-) face.

        Next time!

        July 28, 2011
      • Well, you were missed.

        July 28, 2011
    • I squeeze this in after my 12 minutes of nightly sleep.

      July 28, 2011
  13. Andra, the link you posted as to the game includes an image representative of the more “modern” appearance. See: for its “original” appearance. Things were much simpler then. ;)

    July 28, 2011
    • But, most of the pieces and parts looks the same. Now, I will have to go buy that game for my guideson when he gets bigger. :)

      July 28, 2011
    • We played that game with friends!

      July 28, 2011
  14. Awwww, I remember both games. One when I used to play with it at my friends house and one that my kids played with. :) Another trip down memory lane….thank you.

    July 28, 2011
  15. Charlotte Hammond #

    Having grown up on IOP my entire life and having parents born and raised in Charleston I have to say I have never heard that expression. We always used “Drunk as a skunk.” I asked my husband who grew up in Texas whose parents are from Alabama and Mississippi and he has never heard it either. Funny that I have never heard it!

    July 28, 2011
    • Until today. :)

      It is a pretty common saying in Texas, according to my googling. But, it is a big state.

      July 28, 2011
  16. Alison Dailey #

    Oh my goodness! My casual ( and apparently very frequent) references to Cooter Brown sure have created a lof of research, memories, and musings. Who would have thunk it?

    July 28, 2011
    • My new term of endearment for Alison shall henceforth be “cooter”. :)

      July 28, 2011
    • You said it once.

      That I remember.


      July 28, 2011
      • The rest of them I forgot. Or something.

        July 28, 2011
  17. Cooter was always something my Granny told me to wash. It is also the guy used to measure a buzz against. If someone is as drunk as him then there is either going to be a skin show, a fight, or cookie tossing – sometimes all three. Cooties were the things that boys gave girls….

    July 28, 2011
    • Ha ha! That definition of cooter brown is in the urban dictionary… is what happens when one doesn’t follow Granny’s advice.

      It was great seeing you at lunch today. Hope to see you two on Saturday.

      July 28, 2011
  18. jim siler #

    i have heard the phrase drunk as cootie brown or high as cootie brown my whole life and i live in akron ohio i dont no who came up whit the phrase but i have used it and herd it my whole life go akron ohio

    December 11, 2011
  19. Thomas Russell #

    I grew up in a small town in Missouri. We always heard the phrase “drunk as cootie brown.” I googled “who is cootie brown?” and it took me to your blog! This is so cool!

    August 20, 2012
  20. John Perry #

    I grew up in northern middle Tennessee and back in the 50’s I heard the expression “Drunk as
    Cootie Brown” more times than I can remember. My grandmother also used the expressions. “Three sheets in the wind” and “Stewed to the gills”. I love some of the old language, it was so quaint and colorful.

    June 2, 2013
  21. Dawn #

    LOL! I also googled Cootie Brown and ended up here. I had to google it because I said the phrase, got a weird look from a coworker, and then wondered where in the world it came from. I am from North Carolina, heard it all my life, and sometimes we even leave off Brown and just say drunk as Cootie, or drunk as a Cootie.

    October 31, 2013
    • Dawn, I hope my little post helped you. I live in South Carolina, and heard it all the time growing up, but never knew where it came from myself.

      November 4, 2013

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