I am planning on get squiffy this evening, and then I wondered where that word had come from.

Oxford Dictionaries has the following:

British informal
  1slightly drunk:
    I feel quite squiffy

Can anyone shed any light on this word's origin?

Online references I've checked have nothing more than possibly mid-19th century.

  • 2
    I like the OED's etymology: "Of fanciful formation" Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 12:35
  • I'd hazard a guess that it's related to "skew-whiff", but the OED cites no such link. Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 12:38
  • @MattЭллен - Yes, that's a good point. Will have to see if I can find anything along those lines.
    – Ste
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 12:41
  • 1
    I'll throw a guess that it has something to do with a character from a mid 19 century book "Billets and Bivouacs". I found a mention about him here, in "Calcutta review" (1858). But it's not clear whether the character could be connected to drinking, which made his name an appelative (I haven't found the book itself yet).
    – Vilmar
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 12:47

3 Answers 3


Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, Fifth Edition (1961), says that the term originated (with the meaning "slightly drunk" circa 1873, and that by 1880 it had expanded to include the meaning "drunk in any degree." Partridge says that the term probably derives from "skew-whiff, perhaps on swipey." Here are the entries for those two terms in the same dictionary:

skew-whiff, adj. and adv. Crooked(ly); askew: dial[ectal)] and coll[oquial]: 1754 (S[horter] O[xford] D[ictionary]) —2. Hence, tipsy: C. 20.


swipey. (Not very) tipsy: coll[oquial]: 1844, Dickens, 'He's only a little swipey, you know.' Neveral gen[eral] and, by 1900, ob[solete].

Swipes was a late-18th-century and 19th-century slang term for beer.

I first heard the term in the 1960s, thanks to the invaluable (to a citizen of the United States) vinyl recordings of Beyond the Fringe. In a skit called "Aftermyth of War," an aristocratic lady of advanced years recalls the outbreak of World War II:

I turned to my husband, as he then was, and said "Squiffy, this is the end of an era."



informal (Brit) Also: squiffed slightly drunk

is an adjectivization from squiff

Slang Dictionary
squiff definition [skʍɪf]
n. a drunkard. (See also on the squiff.) : Is there anything that can be done for a confirmed squiff?


I understood it was a reference to the partiality to alcohol of the former Prime Minister (UK), Herbert Asquith (1908-16).

  • I've taken a brief look online, and the sources I saw say or imply something else: "squiffy" already meant "tipsy" before Herbert Asquith got his nickname. He was nicknamed "Squiffy" because he was a well known tippler, and because of the similarity of the word with his last name. Hoping you can add some facts to support your understanding.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 16:24

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