I heard a joke last night about cramming one's mouth with a liquid. I've looked at several definitions, including this one, which seem to allow cram to be used in this way by saying something like:

To force, press, or squeeze into an insufficient space; stuff.

But then it seems to be more related with solid than liquid, in the case of food and drink:


a. To gorge with food.

b. To eat quickly and greedily.

Can cram be used to mean "to fill by force a space to full capacity with liquid"? If not is there a better word?

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    Can you not cram air into a balloon until it pops? I think so. – tchrist Apr 6 '13 at 16:49
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    There has to be some pressure increase somewhere, either in compressibility of the substance or plastic expansion of the container, in order to use cram. For an incompressible fluid like water, only the latter is possible; but the prototype usage allows compressibility as well, so water is maybe not the best example. Still, although it may not be optimally idiomatic, it's certainly clear. – John Lawler Apr 6 '13 at 17:02
  • @tchrist Hmm. Not so sure, T. I think I would grant you that this works as a colorful, creative usage, but it actually works for me only in that it IS creatively playing off the usual usage. See my other comment. – John M. Landsberg Apr 6 '13 at 17:52
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    I would interpret cram in this context as slang. We don't literally shove food down throats (though we use that expression). We don't cram drinks literally any more than we slam drinks literally – but apparently, we can do both. – J.R. Apr 7 '13 at 10:45

The trouble with cramming something full of liquid is that cramming usually implies compression, and most liquids are not very compressible. A Liter (1000 ml) of water for instance will only compress down to 982 ml at a pressure of 5800 pounds per square inch (40 MPa). That's a lot of effort for not much cramming.

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Your definition strikes me as accurate: to force, press, squeeze into an insufficient space. The thing being forced in has to get smaller or adjust in some way in the process of being forced in or it won't fit. Cramming a suitcase full of clothes, for instance, means the clothes become compressed (though, arguably, the suitcase may also expand... I don't think that's the "cramming" part, and certainly not by the definition you've provided).

The first instance of "cram" used in this way in a Google News search at the moment (as opposed to "students cram for their exams," which is a different though related usage) is "designers cram entire hotel room into a suitcase." The concept implies that there is not (or doesn't appear to be) enough space in the suitcase.

If I "cram" my socks into my sock drawer, the drawer doesn't expand, the socks contract.

Part of the issue with the cramming of one's mouth with a liquid--at least for me--is I'm having trouble visualizing it. Cramming your mouth with food is easy, but liquid consumption works differently than food consumption does. You can "gulp," "guzzle," "swig," or more colloquially "knock back" or "pound" especially alcohol, but none of these verbs implies the overfilling of one's mouth, rather they imply only rapid consumption. They certainly don't imply anything akin to the definition of "cram."

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  • It seems to me that when we use "cram" we strongly imply that the crammed substance retains its location by virtue of being held by the container and its own physical integrity. Generally this includes an associated implication that the container is open, semi-open, or at least not closed until the cramming is finished. This does not apply to liquids (or gases), because of their fluidity and tendency to run out of wherever it is they are being put. So I'm not comfortable with the concept of "cramming" liquids or gases at all. – John M. Landsberg Apr 6 '13 at 17:47
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    @JohnM.Landsberg: From a scientific perspective, I'm in general agreement with you. Fortunately, though, language is more malleable than liquid or gas, which is why we can (informally) stuff ourselves at a feast, pound some food at a cafeteria, hammer some drinks at a bar, or grab some coffee in the morning. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to sequester some breakfast... :^) – J.R. Apr 7 '13 at 11:00
  • Dave: I've seen cases (maybe idiomatic) where cram can mean stuffing firm objects into a flexible container: namely, to cram books into a backpack. I'm looking for something along these lines with liquids: I've heard of filling a wineskin so that it's "bursting at the seams." Overfill misses two points for me: It's not liquid-specific and it's commonly from the POV of the container (but this can be changed by adding with). Is there a word that can describe this fullness from the POV of the liquid? I suspect from @Wayfaring Stranger's answer, such a word would not make sense. – user39720 Apr 7 '13 at 15:49
  • I'm just not sure it really would describe very well what you want to get across in this case. – Dave Apr 7 '13 at 19:08
  • +1 @J.R. But still, what's the consensus? DOES "cram" work for liquids or not? For me, it just doesn't quite work. For liquids, the only word I think I feel comfortable with is simply "force." – John M. Landsberg Apr 7 '13 at 19:30

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