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The earliest example I've seen so far of this widely-recycled claim (see what I did there?) is a 2003 article by Dana Larsen in the magazine Cannabis Culture:

It was common practice among ancient people to recycle the potent effects of the [amanita muscaria] mushroom by drinking each other’s urine. The amanita’s ingredients can remain potent even after six passes through the human body. Some scholars argue that this is the origin of the phrase “to get pissed,” as this urine-drinking activity preceded alcohol by thousands of years.

The claim about the urine-drinking itself seems like it might be unsubstantiated, but clearly goes back much earlier (e.g. Watson, 1970). I'm putting that aside for now. I'm also not really interested in whether or not the claim regarding the etymology of the slang "to get pissed" is true or false, since it is phrased so tentatively. My question is simply whether this claim actually appears in any work resembling scholarship (i.e. that cites specific sources of evidence), especially prior to 2003?

David Crystal (2014) states that the use of "pissed" for "drunk" dates to 1812, while the Online Etymology Dictionary dates it to 1929. Neither makes any suggestion of where the term comes from and cites no sources. I've always assumed it had to do with drunk people urinating, but can find no scholarly analysis from that angle either.

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    This would be better asked on English.SE.
    – Schwern
    Oct 27, 2023 at 1:37
  • I've revised the title to hopefully clarify that I don't care about the actual etymology, just whether the "some scholars argue" part is made up or not.
    – Brian Z
    Oct 27, 2023 at 14:33
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    related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/500658/…
    – DavePhD
    Oct 27, 2023 at 16:19
  • @Schwern: Oh, please don't do that.
    – Robusto
    Oct 27, 2023 at 19:37
  • I'd consider it somewhat unexpected that the urine-drinking related etymology kicks in only(?) in the English language when the activity itself predates alcohol by thousands of years Oct 29, 2023 at 13:46

1 Answer 1

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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it dates to 1812, but with the spelling "pist" in Rhymes of Northern Bards Being a Curious Collection of Old and New Songs and Poems, Peculiar to the Counties of Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, and Durham which says:

For all they can say, Sir, she still rasps away, Sir,
And sweeps round their jaw, the chop torturing tool;
Till they in a pet, Sir, request her to whet, Sir:
But she gives them for answer, “Sit still you pist fool!”
For all their repining, their twisting and twining,
She forward proceeds till she’s mown off the hair;
When finish’d, cries, “There Sir;” then straight from the chair, Sir,
They’ll jump, crying, “Daresay you’ve scrap’d the bone bare!”

Slightly earlier than the OP December 2003 article is the 2002 book Magic Mushrooms Religion and Alchemy which at page 201 suggests or alludes to the origin of "pissed off" being drinking urine after consuming mushrooms. Certainly not scholarly.

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    I can't see how this answers the question. What am I missing?
    – Oddthinking
    Oct 27, 2023 at 1:51
  • @Oddthinking the most authoritative subscription-only dictionary says that is the origin, but feel free to delete
    – DavePhD
    Oct 27, 2023 at 1:56
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    Oh, I don't doubt that this is the first recorded use found by the OED, and that they are generally good at their jobs. But we still don't know if the word derived from drinking urine or not.
    – Oddthinking
    Oct 27, 2023 at 4:11
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    Citations of words in the OED are not generally the origin, in the sense of "this writer created the word"; they are early examples used to trace the word's age, and its shifting meaning. Given that the earliest citation in this case is "a collection of old and new songs and poems", it's actually reasonable evidence that the word is actually older, but informal and maybe regional, so rarely appearing in print.
    – IMSoP
    Oct 27, 2023 at 6:27
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    I'm accepting this answer for now... I suspect the claim is nonsense but I'm not sure we'll get any closer to proving it false than this.
    – Brian Z
    Oct 29, 2023 at 14:22

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