The Language Of Hangovers

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While searching for something this weekend, I happened upon A Few Too Many, by Joan Acocella, that appeared in The New Yorker magazine in May of 2008. If you’re a regular reader, you know I’m a word nerd, and love language. So her piece on hangovers included this gem of a paragraph, explaining how other languages described a hangover:
hangover-words

There’s some awesome phrases there, it may be time to create a page of hangover words, similar to Drunk Words, Puke Words and Beer Slang, or even my list of Beer In Other Languages.

Believe it or not, apparently the word “hangover,” meaning “a severe headache or other after effects caused by drinking an excess of alcohol,” was first used around 1902 or 1904 (depending on the source). It seems like it would be older than that, but apparently that’s when it was first seen in print in the United States, where the word originated. It did show up a little earlier, in 1894, as hang-over, but meaning “a survival, a thing left over from before.” Prior to hangover’s debut as the perfect word to describe our pain and discomfort, these were some of the most common words people used to describe that feeling.

  • black dog
  • blue-devils
  • bottle ache
  • bust-head
  • carpenters in the forehead
  • cropsick
  • gallon-distemper
  • hair-ache
  • jim-jams
  • katzenjammer
  • morning fog
  • wooden mouth
  • the zings

Here’s “hangover” in just a few languages, with the literal translation in brackets. My favorite is undoubtedly the Finnish word, which is “krapula,” which sounds exactly like you feel when you’re hungover.

  • Chinese (Mandarin): suzui [stay-over drunk]
  • Colombian Spanish: guayabo [guava trees]
  • Finnish: krapula
  • French: gueule de bois [a wooden gob]
  • Hebrew: הנגאובר [severe dizziness]
  • Hungarian: másnaposság [next-day-ish-ness]
  • Icelandic: thynnka [thinness]
  • Japanese: futsukayoi [two-day drunk]
  • Korean: suk-chwi [stay-over drunk]
  • Russian: poxmel’je [from drink]
  • Serbian: мамурлук [crapulence]
  • Spanish: resaca [undertow or backwash]
  • Swedish: kopparslagare [coppersmith]
  • Turkish: aksamdan kalmalık [evening remainder]
  • Vietnamese: dựng xiên [built cockeyed]
  • Zulu: babelaas or babbelas

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And here’s a few random slang words for hangovers:

  • American slang, early 1900s: crapulous
  • American slang: PRS, for “Post Refreshment Syndrome”
  • Central American slang: “goma” which is rubber
  • Danish slang: tømmermænd, which apparently means “carpenters”
  • French, antiquated: mal aux cheveux, which essentially meant a “hair-ache”
  • German slang: kater, which means “tomcat,” and people hungover are also said to be “verkatert,” or “catted.” It’s supposedly derived from the word “katarrh,” an antiquated expression for an illness.
  • Italian slang: postumi della sbornia, which means the “after-death of the drunkenness”
  • Mexican slang: crudo, which means “raw”
  • Modern Irish: Ta dha cinn orm, which apparently means “There are two heads on me”
  • Polish slang: kac
  • Swedish slang: baksmälla, which roughly means “a whack on the ass”

And finally, here’s a list I found of “distinctly Irish ways to describe your hangover:”

  • I’m in Lego
  • The horrors
  • I feel like boiled shite
  • Sick as a small hospital
  • I’m puking my ring
  • Bottle of ghosts
  • I’ve had a bad pint
  • Brown bottle flu
  • I’m in a heap
  • Mouth like a fur boot
  • I’ve got The Fear
  • In rag order

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Why Greasy Food Tastes So Good When You’re Hungover

hangover
There’s nothing quite so tasty the next morning after a session of drinking that wakes you up with a pounding headache as greasy food. For me, greasy food is perfect for any meal, but it’s especially fitting after a night of overindulgence. I’ve often wondered why that is, or if it was anything more than the grease sopping up the leftover alcohol coursing through my veins. According to a short article in Popular Science a few years back that I just stumbled on entitled FYI: Why Do We Crave Greasy Food When We’re Hung Over?, the answer is, at least in part, because “we’re really just going back to our caveman roots.”

“All mammals gravitate to eating the most energy-dense foods,” David Levitsky, professor of human ecology and nutritional sciences at Cornell University, says. “Fat is the most energy-dense food available.” It’s just that sober, you won’t usually give in to those cravings. But after a night of boozy indulgence, you lose such learned inhibitions as disciplined eating, Levitsky says.

Or it might be galanin, a “brain chemical.”

William Gruchow, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, has studied and written about galanin and its effects on various neurotransmitters. “Galanin increases appetite for fats, and consumption of fat causes more galanin to be produced,” Gruchow said. “Alcohol intake also results in increased galanin production.”

The thinking goes:

By consuming large quantities of high-fat foods and alcohol, you increase your triglycerides possibly stimulating galanin production. That, in turn, makes you crave that calorific Denny’s breakfast you’d never touch otherwise. “The bottom line here is that alcohol intake increases one’s appetite for fat, and fat intake does the same. This is a double whammy for drinkers who eat fatty foods while drinking,” Gruchow says.

And here I just thought it tasted good.

greasy-foods

Patent No. 2452476A1: Mediating The Effects Of Alcohol Consumption By Orally Administering Active Dry Yeast

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Today in 2003, US Patent 3712820 A was issued, an invention of Joe Owades, for their “Mediating the Effects of Alcohol Consumption by Orally Administering Active Dry Yeast.” Here’s the short Abstract. “A process for lowering blood alcohol levels in humans after they imbibe alcoholic beverages by administering active dry yeast before or concomitantly with the imbibing of the beverages.”

This is most likely the origin of the hangover prevention that Jim Koch, from the Boston Beer Co., has popularized over the years, but especially after Esquire magazine ran an article about it last April, How to Drink All Night Without Getting Drunk.

yeast-cure

The story got picked up by NPR, Serious Eats and even Snopes took a look at it.

But I’d actually heard Jim tell the story a couple of times at various events, most recently at a beer dinner last year at the Jamaica Plain brewery in Boston celebrating the 30th anniversary of Samuel Adams.

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In telling the story, Jim did, of course, mention that the idea came from Joe Owades, who had worked as a consultant with the Boston Beer Co. since the very beginning, and off and on thereafter. But I don’t think I’d realized before now that Joe had actually patented the idea.

The claim in the patent application describes it in a nutshell. “A method of mediating the effect of alcohol consumption by a person which comprises orally administering active dry yeast containing alcohol dehydrogenase to said person prior to or simultaneously with consumption of an alcohol-containing beverage, whereby to oxidize a portion of the alcohol while still in the stomach of said person.” His own testing of the method, shown in the figures below, found that “blood alcohol level-min. was reduced by 38% by the yeast.”

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The Science Of The Spins

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Given that today is New Year’s Eve — what I generally refer to as Amateur Drinking Day — I thought this science lesson from Mental Floss on what causes the spins was an appropriate topic. In Why Does Alcohol Cause the Spins?, author Matt Soniak explains that sometimes after an evening’s drinking that the room appears to be spinning out of control. You lie down, but it doesn’t help. No matter what you do, the vertigo persists, causing great discomfort and often the loss of lunch, dinner and everything else that used to be in your stomach. Here’s why.

The spins happen because of an odd effect alcohol has on your ears — specifically, on three tiny, fluid-filled structures called the semicircular canals. Inside each of these canals is a fluid called endolymph and a gelationous structure called the cupula, which is filled with cells covered in fine, hair-like stereocilia.

As you move around, the movement of the endolymph lags behind the more solid cupula, distorting and bending it — and those little hairs. When the hairs bend, the electrical signal they send to your brain is altered, helping you to make sense of the rotations your head experiences on each of the three planes the canals sit on — movements up and down, left and right and backward and forward — and keep your balance.

Booze throws this system out of whack. Alcohol thins the blood, and when boozy blood travels to the inner ear, it creates a density difference between the cupula and the fluid in the canals, and distorts the cupula’s shape. The little hairs bend and send a signal to your brain that tells it you’re rotating when you’re really not, and this illusion of motion makes it seem like the room is spinning.

Some of the things that you most want to do when you’re good and drunk, like lie down and close your eyes, make the sensation worse, since you don’t have any visual or physical cues to counteract the false sense of motion. Looking at a fixed object and keeping your feet planted on the ground can help lessen the effect, but there’s no real way to stop it.

So now you know. The bad news is there’s pretty much nothing you can do about it apart from practicing moderation and drinking plenty of water. If I know I’ll be drinking a lot, I try to eat a hearty meal beforehand, drink a glass of water in between each beer, snack during the party and take some Advil and Vitamin B before going to sleep. Happy New Year everybody.

Maybe this will help; maybe not.

the-spins

Hangover Cure News

hangover
If you’ve ever looked at the science behind hangovers or endured enough of them, you probably already know that time is really the only cure for one. But when you’re feeling that bad, hope tends to spring eternal; and so hangover cures represent a pretty healthy business, bringing in untold millions of dollars. A hungover fool and his money are soon parted.

We all have our own preferred remedy. Mine is entirely preventative. Before going to bed, I take three Advils and a B-vitamin. More often than not, I wake up feeling fine. I also drink a lot of water, both during a drinking session and before retiring. I don’t think of it as a cure — indeed, I don’t believe there can actually be a cure — but for me it tends to head off the symtoms before they manifest themselves as discomfort or downright pain.

But companies keep taking P.T. Barnum’s prophetic words and proving them true, playing on our desire to do just about anything to speed up the recovery from a bad hangover. And in fact, two new ones are in the news today.
blowfish-tablets

Blowfish

Several news outlets, such as the NY Daily News, have the story that Blowfish tablets, recently approved by the FDA, is on the market, available for sale over-the-counter. The effervescent tablets “combine 1,000 milligrams of aspirin, 120 milligrams of caffeine and a stomach-soothing agent” which you dissolve in water the morning after. “Once dissolved in water, the remedy claims to knock out multiple hangover symptoms in just 15 to 30 minutes.” So far, it’s only for sale in New York City or at ForHangovers.com, and sells for $2.99 for a single dose, or $11.99 for a six-pack. Hmm.
hangover-patch

The Vitamin Patch

The Daily has a story today regarding a patch that you wear on your arm — like a nicotine patch — that time releases B vitamins. “Bytox Inc., has created a hangover patch that slowly releases a complex of B vitamins over eight hours — from the hour before you start drinking to the morning after. The idea, said Dr. Leonard Grossman, is that nutrients are immediately delivered into the bloodstream and stay there instead of being depleted.”

Maybe, but that still seems like a lot of work when taking one pill before bedtime is so simple. Plus, you’d still need to keep drinking a lot of water, too. I continue to think that moderation is the best method, and when that fails, as it inevitably will on occasion, time is your only friend.