"You’re not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on” is a jocular line that dates to at least the early 1800s. “No man could be called drunk, so long as he could lie upon the ground without holding it,” a court declared in Ormond, a Tale (1817) by Maria Edgeworth.
Many comedians have used the line. New York-born comedian Joe E. Lewis (1902-1971) was credited in 1954 with, “a guy isn’t drunk so long as he can lie on the floor without holding on.” American singer, actor and comedian Dean Martin (1917-1995) was quoted in 1975 with, “I say you’re not drunk when you’re lying on the floor without holding on.” A jocular T-shirt states: “An Irishman is never drunk as long as he can hold on to a blade of grass and not fall off of the face of the earth.”
[This entry includes research assistance from the Quote Investigator, who posted on the American Dialect Society listserv.]
Harrington: A Tale; and Ormond, a Tale.
In Three Volumes, Volume 2
By Maria Edgeworth
London: Printed for R. Hunter
This startling assertion could not bring his majesty’s veracity into question; for according to his definition, and to the received opinion at his court, “No man could be called drunk, so long as he could lie upon the ground without holding it.”
10 July 1857, The Morning Post (London), “Election Committees,” pg. 3, col. 1:
I was drunker than when you can’t lie on the ground without holding. An Irishman can do more than that. (Roars of laughter.)
12 May 1858, Wheeling (WV) Daily Intelligencer, pg. 2, col. 1:
A NICE POINT SETTLED.—It has for some time been a doubtful question with police courts under the Excise Law, to fix the precise point of inebriation where a man becomes “intoxicated,” and we have heard quite ingenius arguments spun in the effort to define where soberness leaves off and “intoxication” begins. It will therefore be interesting to those concerned to learn that a Western Court has just rendered a decision that “a man is intoxicated when he can’t lie on the ground without holding on.”
20 January 1872, New Orleans (LA) Republican, pg. 5, col. 2:
FORTUNATE DRUNKARD.—About nine o’clock yesterday morning, Officer Kennedy picked up John Perry on the corner of Tchoupitoulas and Notre Dame streets, so drunk that he could not lie on the round without holding on to anything.
28 March 1899,
29 October 1902, Daily Mail (London), pg. 4, col. 6:
Or the definition of sobriety: “A man is sober so long as he can lie on tbe floor without holding on.”
3 February 1903, The Times-Dispatch (Richmond, VA), “When Drink Is Not Drunk,” pg. 4, col. 7:
A more liberal view is that no man is drunk is who able to lie on the floor without holding on.—Ohio State Journal.
15 September 1905, Meriden (CT) Daily Journal, “When Is A Man Drunk?” (New York World), pg. 6, col. 3:
The old rule that a man is never drunk if he can lie on the sidewalk without holding on is not without merit, and always deserves careful judicial consideration. For one thing, it is conclusive and leaves no opportunity for dispute.
6 May 1954, San Diego (CA) Union, Jack Murphy column, pg. B-5, col. 1:
Definition: a guy isn’t drunk, says Joe E, Lewis, so long as he can lie on the floor without holding on.
22 November 1963 The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), “Title of Clown King is Secure” by Vincent Randazzo, sec. 4, pg. 11, col. 1:
Other little vignettes (of comedian Joe E. Lewis—ed.) we liked were: “I went on a diet for two weeks and lost 14 days.” “You are never drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on.”
2 July 1975, Boston (MA) Herald-American, “Dean Martin Reveals His Other Side” by Anthony LaCamera, pg. 22, col. 3:
“I (Dean Martin—ed.) drink because I like to drink, but I know when to stop. I say you’re not drunk when you’re lying on the floor without holding on.”
4 July 1978, Esquire, “Dean Martin’s Closest Friend is Frank Sinatra” by Jean Vallely, pg. 70, col. 1:
“My great friend and drinking buddy Joe E. Lewis says you’re not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on.”
Make Room for Danny
By Danny Thomas, with Bill Davidson
New York, NY: Putnam
Or like the ones where Dean (martin—ed.) doesn’t admit he’s drunk: “If you can lie down on the sidewalk without holding on, you ain’t drunk.”
“You’re not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on.”
― Dean Martin (died this day, December 25, 1995)
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11:48 AM - 25 Dec 2015