Drink & drinking quotes

Words by Theodora Sutcliffe

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There are a myriad drinking quotes on the internet – and on T-shirts, beer mats, chalkboards and menus. We explore the veracity of the interwebz' favourite drinking quotes and find - quelle surprise - that something is (almost always) wrong on the internet.

"In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is Freedom, in water there is bacteria."

― Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

The polymath Founding Father Benjamin Franklin could not have written (or said) anything remotely like this, although he did argue that wine was proof of God's love. Franklin was arguably the greatest scientist of his time, and established that the common cold was transmitted by inhaling other people's breath, but died decades before viruses or germs were even conceived of. By the time the scientific term "bacteria" came into being, Franklin had been dead 38 years.

Credibility rating: 0/10

"Writer's block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol."

― Steve Martin (1945-)

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Sextuple threat and comic Steve Martin crafted this splendid line in a 1996 piece for The New Yorker, entitled "Writing is Easy". It was reprinted in his 1998 story collection, Pure Drivel.

Credibility rating: 10/10

"Alcohol may be man's worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy."

― Frank Sinatra (1915-1998)

The Prohibition-era politician William Jennings Bryan described alcohol as "man's greatest enemy", and the line "alcohol is man's worst enemy" appears in various Temperance tracts from around that time. So you'd think that the wit who first cracked this gag would have done so during or around the Prohibition era, when Frank Sinatra was a nipper.

Sinatra took religion seriously, although with four marriages and countless one-night stands he was hardly a model Catholic. And you'd think if he really delivered this classic drinking quote, it would appear in biographies by serious writers, or at least during his lifetime. Many, many people have tried to source this quote, and all have failed. Which won't stop it appearing on ecards.

Credibility rating: 1/10

"I don't have a drinking problem, 'Cept when I can't get a drink."

― Tom Waits (1949-)

A typically cheery line from gravel-voiced singer-songwriter Tom Waits, here. The track is entitled "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart", and comes from his 1976 album, Small Change. Waits gave up drinking in the 90s, courtesy of Alcoholics Anonymous, and remains a signed-up member of the programme.

Credibility rating: 10/10

"An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools."

― Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

The guerrilla leader Pablo delivers a version of this drinking quote in Hemingway's novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. "'No,' Pablo said, dipping up another cup. 'I am drunk, seest thou? When I am not drunk I do not talk. You have never heard me talk much. But an intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend his time with fools.'" Amended to sound as though it came from a Hemingway letter - Hemingway's alter ego in the book is Robert Jordan, not Pablo - the adapted version has a tonne of internet traction.

Credibility rating: 7/10

"Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar."

― Drew Carey (1958-)

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The stand-up comic turned actor and presenter, Drew Carey, is best known for hosting The Price Is Right. In his long-running sitcom, The Drew Carey Show, he played Assistant Director of Personnel at a Cleveland department store. He delivers a version of this line in Season 4, Episode 2: "Oh, you hate your job? Oh my GOD, why didn't you say so?! You know there's a support group for that. It's called EVERYBODY. They meet at the bar."

Credibility rating: 9/10

"First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you."

― F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

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Drink did, indeed, take Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald, when he was only just into his 40s, and this drinking quote is often attributed to him. But "First a man takes a drink; then the drink takes a drink; then the drink takes a man" was a well-known saying during Fitzgerald's lifetime. It looks as though the line was first attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald in a 1970s novel (!), Ackroyd, by Jules Feiffer - and became attached to him soon after.

Credibility rating: 1/10

"For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication."

― Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

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Twilight of the Idols was one of the last books the German philosopher-poet Friedrich Nietzsche wrote before syphilis destroyed his brain, and this quote is part of his discussion of artistic inspiration. He goes onto list the types of intoxication that could affect the artist, running all the way from sex to narcotics via spring and, of course, "the intoxication of a bulging, swollen will".

Credibility rating: 10/10

"Do you drink?"
"Of course, I just said I was a writer."

― Stephen King (1947-)

In 1408, the horror film based on Stephen King's short story of the same name, Samuel L. Jackson's haunted hotel keeper asks John Cusack's sceptical writer, "You do drink, don't you?" Cusack's reply? "Of course, I just said I was a writer." While the pair DO drink in King's story, this dialogue is from the screenplay, not the book. So credit is due to one or all of the film project's three screenwriters - Scott Alexander, Matt Greenberg and Larry Karaszewski - not the King-meister himself.

Credibility rating: 5/10

"There comes a time in every woman's life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne."

― Bette Davis (1908-1989)

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In the 1940s chick flick Old Acquaintance, screen icon Bette Davis uses this exact line, as a saintly writer who gives up much of what matters through loyalty to her old friend. Props to the movie's trinity of writers: Edmund Goulding, Lenore J. Coffee and John William Van Druten.

Credibility rating: 10/10

"I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis."

―Humphrey Bogart

These are widely cited as the last words of the Oscar-winning actor and Rat Pack member Humphrey Bogart. They weren't.

Bogart's wife, Lauren Bacall, remembered his death in her autobiography. He was in bed, very sick with cancer, when she told him she was off to collect their children from Sunday school. He replied, "Goodbye, Kid," and asked her to "Hurry back." She said she'd only be a few minutes. When she returned, he was in a coma from which he never awoke.

For the record, Bogart switched between Scotch and Martinis all the time, and the line attributed to him might first have appeared in a 1970s novel - newspaper reports from around the time of his death recorded his last words accurately enough.

Credibility rating: 0/10

"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

―Benjamin Franklin

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Wouldn't it be great if one of the Founding Fathers had been a dedicated fan of beer? Unfortunately, he wasn't. Franklin did, however, appreciate other liquids. In a pun-packed letter, in French, to one Abbé Morellet, he banters intellectually about the divine quality of wine, punning on "wine" and "divine".

It's almost certainly this quote -- "Behold the water which falls from the sky on our vineyards; there, it enters the roots of the vines to be changed into wine; constant proof that God loves us, and that he wants to see us happy." - that ended up as the drinking quote "beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

Interestingly, in the same letter, Franklin writes: "It is true that God also gave men the possibility to reduce wine to water. But what type of water? - The water of life [eau-de-vie], so that they could, by themselves, perform the miracle of Cana, and convert common water into that excellent species of wine which we call punch."

Credibility rating: 2/10

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That'll teach you to keep your mouth shut."

―Ernest Hemingway

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Charles Scribner Jr. was only 30 when he took over publishing Hemingway - and others - after his father's death, and the Great Man took it upon himself to dish out paternal advice. Among his pearls of wisdom, Scribner recalled? "'Always do sober what you said you'd do when you were drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut!'" The same letter apparently contained the sage warnings: "Never fool around with bears," and "Never do knife tricks." Words to live by!

Credibility rating: 9/10

"I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day."

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Variously attributed to Sinatra, Dean Martin, W.C. Fields and a Florida politican named Dempsey Barron (who used the line in a 1990 interview), this great drinking quote turns out to be a line from a film. In Under the Yum Yum Tree, a forgettable early 60s movie written by David Swift and Laurence Roman, Jack Lemmon's character says: "I feel sorry for people who don't drink, Dork, because when they get up in the morning, that's as good as they're gonna feel all day.".

It is, of course, possible that either Sinatra or Deano - though not W.C. Fields, who was dead by then - borrowed the gag and took it on stage in Vegas.

Credibility rating: 3/10

"I would rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy."

―Tom Waits

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Gravel-voiced legend Tom Waits used a version of this classic drinking quote in 1977 after performing The Piano Has Been Drinking on an Alan Partridge-esque comedy show called Fernwood 2 Night. Was it scripted? Who knows? Waits claimed much later that he found it on a bathroom wall. Whether he did or not, the pun had been doing the rounds for some time.

In fact, an Oklahoma philosophy professor named Carlton W. Berenda went into print with a variation as early as 1965. In a tome called World Visions and the Image of Man: Cosmologies as Reflections of Man, he confusingly remarks: "And the male... may be driven to reflect on three alternatives: 'A bottle in front of me, a frontal lobotomy or the front off the bottom of me.'" There's no evidence that Dean Martin, W.C. Fields or Dorothy Parker said it first.

Credibility rating: 7/10

"A lady came up to me one day and said 'Sir! You are drunk', to which I replied 'I am drunk today madam, and tomorrow I shall be sober but you will still be ugly.'"

―Winston Churchill

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Clearly, Winston Churchill, the man who gave us "We shall fight them on the beaches..." could never have written a sentence as clunky as the above drinking quote. But he quite possibly did deliver a similar insult.

One expert recalls Churchill's bodyguard telling him about an exchange between the great man and Bessie Braddock. Braddock, a Liverpool socialist, had all the balls required to be a woman in politics during the early twentieth century - that's plenty, by the way - and could give at least as good as she got. It went like this, apparently:

Bessie: "Winston, you are drunk, and what's more you are disgustingly drunk."
Winston:"Bessie, my dear, you are ugly, and what's more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly."

Others had made similar jokes previously, and some claim that Churchill would never have insulted a lady. But who said Churchill had to be original all the time?

Credibility rating: 5/10

"Come quickly! I am drinking the stars!"

―Dom Pérignon

According to internet lore, Dom Pierre Pérignon invented champagne on 4 August, 1693, exactly, summoning his fellow monks with the immortal phrase, "Come quickly! I am drinking the stars!"

Nope. Dom Pérignon's primary focus was to STOP wines fizzing, and therefore exploding their glass bottles, and the quote most likely comes from the fertile mind of a 19th century French copywriter, by way of a merchandising-happy abbot.

Credibility rating: 0/10

"An alcoholic is someone you don't like who drinks as much as you do."

―Dylan Thomas

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The poet, dramatist and.... well, drinker... Dylan Thomas did, indeed, say something pretty close to this, according to his biographer and friend, Constantine Fitzgibbon. A decade or so after his death, Fitzgibbon defended Thomas against (understandable) assertions that he was an alcoholic, writing: "Dylan himself once defined an alcoholic as 'a man you don't like who drinks as much as you do.'"

Credibility rating: 7/10

"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."

―Oscar Wilde

This drinking quote first shows up attributed to Oscar Wilde in 1946, almost half a century after he died, in a book by Hesketh Pearson, a pop biographer who had never met him.

Others attribute the line to the academic and priest William Archibald Spooner, who was so famous for his unfortunate habit of swapping words and consonants around that he gave the world the word "spoonerism" - apparently, he was trying to express the common Victorian sentiment that "Drink is the curse of the working classes."

It's likely that someone far less famous than either of them came up with the line, which then became attached to their names.

Credibility rating: 4/10

"Cheap booze is a false economy."

―Christopher Hitchens

The late, great Christopher Hitchens laid down this advice to young people in his book Hitch-22. Other gems? "Don't drink on an empty stomach.... Drink when you are in a good mood.... Avoid all narcotics.... Never even think about driving a car if you have taken a drop..." and "Be careful about up-grading too far to single malt Scotch: when you are voyaging in rough countries it won't be easily available." All very handy, although feminists won't adore his comments on drunk women.

Credibility rating: 10/10

"Sometimes too much to drink is barely enough."

―Mark Twain

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