Victorian Farmers and Hangovers

Here's a fun little story I read about in Barbara Holland's The Joy of Drinking.

She writes about a farmer from 1969 who was old enough to remember farming during the Victorian era. "He remembers when fields were harvested by hand, with scythes, and beer was part of the bargain. Each man was allotted and expected to drink seventeen pints, or about two gallons, a day. Field work: you sweat off a lot" (24).

Given how much they drank (and considering that they drank beer, which has a lot of impurities), it's remarkable that (according to Holland) there was no English word for "hangover" until very recently. In fact, the word "hangover" itself first appears in print only in 1894 and doesn't even strictly relate to alcohol, but rather meaning "a thing or person remaining or left over; a remainder or survival" (27-28). According to my own research, the alcohol-related connotation of the word "hangover" didn't appear until 1904. That seems remarkably late in the history of the English language to develop a word for a hangover.

So how did these people drink such quantities? Was beer less alcoholic then? Or did they honestly just sweat out that much? Or was their tolerance just ridiculously high? If anyone knows how people were able to drink this much (or at least how farmer laborers in this context were able to drink this much) or if there was another word which was used to describe the sick after-effects of too much drink, please let me know.

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One Response to Victorian Farmers and Hangovers

  1. Okay, let me preface this by saying that I have no sources, it just feels right.

    I think it is a combination of all of your options. First of all, beer was the European drink of choice until water purification was invented because there were so many things in water to make you sick and alcohol content reduced this a bit.

    Therefore, despite the fact that the alcohol content was pretty low, (so that it was easy for children to drink) these people must have had decent tolerance. Plus if they are nice husky farmers, the can handle more than your average petite woman.

    My other theory is that there were enough other things floating around that they didn’t need a specific word for a hangover since they probably also had plague.


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