March 9, 2008

Origins: Tie One On


I was trying to track down the origin of the phrase "tie one on."  Not much luck but this is what I came up with:

The folks at Phrase Finder have this to say:
From "The Wordsworth Book of Euphemism" by Judith S. Neaman and Carole G. Silver (Wordsworth Reference, New York, 1983, 1990) -- "Tie one on, to - To get drunk. (Eric) Partridge suggests that this expression is derived from 'hang one on' (ca. 1935), which originated in the United States and was later adopted in Canada. It is clear that a 'hangover' -- more politely, 'the morning after' -- is the miserable memento of having 'hung' or 'tied one on.' We are uncertain as to why drinking is described as tieing, hanging or belting..." 
: Some sites claim that the phrase "tie one on" dates back to the wild west here in the US in the 1800's where a cowboy would have to tie up his horse to a hitching post before he could go into the saloon and get drunk. I don't think so!
: The OED compares "tie one on" to the British slang phrase "tie a bun on," also meaning "to get drunk." Maybe some of our UK friends could shed some light on this.

Similarly, Word Detective says:

 a slang phrase meaning "to get drunk." I can't say that his theory definitely isn't true, simply because no one knows for sure what the origin is. And it is true that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the first recorded use in print of the phrase comes from a book called "Western Folklore." But that book was printed in 1951, and if the phrase had indeed been in common use in the Old West, it is difficult to imagine that it would not have cropped up at least once in the extensive body of "cowboy literature" written before the 1950s.

The one clue we have about the origin of "tie one on" only deepens the mystery. The OED compares "tie one on" to the British slang phrase "tie a bun on," also meaning "to get drunk." Unfortunately (I seem to be saying that a lot today, don't I?), no one seems to have the vaguest idea where "tie a bun on," which appeared around 1901, came from, or what a bun could possibly have to do with getting drunk. It's enough to drive a fellow to drink.

Wikipedia isn't much help, but offers:
To "tie one on" means to drink for the purpose of getting drunk, especially when one is currently still drunk or hungover from a previous drinking session, thus having something to "tie one on" to. Could be considered the drinking equivalent of chain smoking.

9 comments:

Essex Two said...

Hi there, Interesting piece you have here. I as well was looking for the origin or "tie one on" only to yield similar results. The "tie a bun on"phrase was interesting. It could be related to the habit of people eating bread before or after drinking to soak up the alcohol. Perhaps by tying a bun onto something, a tree, or post etc... the drinker could return to that spot and consume the bread to sober up a tad before returning home. However the likelyhood of that being the case is pretty slim. I would assume the cowboy or chain drinking theorys are more accurate.

Anonymous said...

Just discussing this with my friends yesterday. No one had any ideas until we met up with another friend, from Tennessee. We asked him if he had any idea and his response was, "Oh sure, tie one on -- like a feed bag that you tie on to your horse."

This makes sense to me -- in New Orleans, for Mardi Gras they sell "feed bags" you hang around your neck and it holds your beer. Your hands are free but you are never without alcohol in close proximity. Hope this helps!

JamesFooper said...

I understand that this phrase may be puzzling to some. Having spent time studying indigenous cultures of North America, I can tell you that this phrase comes from the now-lost Native American practice of lashing a hand-woven basket to a tree. The basket would be filled with a mash (similar to that used to brew beer) containing various grains. The grains would ferment over time and mix with rain water to create a delicious barley-type wine. After approximately two months, the male members of the tribe would return to the tree, take down the tub of what is now liquor, and drink their fill. They would then return to the village having "tied one on." Through what accounts we have, passed on through the oral tradition, the men would then lie to the female members of the tribe about where they had been. The men would return with small game and pretend that they had been hunting. Thus, the phrase to tie a "bun" on refers to the alibi of stringing a hare or wild rabbit to a tree to drain its blood.

gregoryearls said...

Was just told that "tie a bun on" came out of British theater. Getting drunk after performances, a drunk male might raid wardrobe and come back dressed in women's clothing. The "bun" was a wig with the hair tied in a bun. It was the theater equivalent of wearing a a drunk wearing a lampshade.

Anonymous said...

I always thought that "tie one on" meant that you would be too drunk to hold your beer, thus you would have to tie it on.

Anonymous said...

Of course a precursor to Edward 40 hands

Peter D said...

Possibly to 'tie one on' would mean to tie another knot on the rope. This was a method for keeping track of time by the number of knots. The phrase would be said to note another night of drinking.

Anonymous said...

Farmers would get so drunk at the bar they needed to tie them self to there horse so they didn't fall off when they passed out on the way home. it was cruise control the horse knew the way home.

Anonymous said...

To "Tie One On" is to set out to get drunk. A wise cowboy might think to use his belt to fast himself to the barstool before "tieing one on. Likewise a "belt" of liguior is an up shot of about 1/4 cup of straight booze...it'll curl your toes and behove you to have used your belt to secure yourself to your barstool prior to consumption.

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